Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Question About Ethics in Polyamory

I’ve been reading your blog for quite a while now and I always enjoy it. I know that you don’t answer advice questions often…but I have been rolling a certain situation around in my head for a while now and I would love an opinion from an experienced poly person such as yourself…

…There is a dear friend of mine, (let’s call him Boy), that I have had a crush on for a year or two but he has always been in a relationship. Now he finds himself single and we had a wonderful make-out session a few nights ago. Our sexual kinks seem to line up remarkably well and I was sensing the beginning of a very promising relationship. After our make-out session I discovered that he has also been playing around with another mutual friend of ours, (how about I call her Girl?). No big deal - I didn’t expect monogamy from Boy. Except that Girl really wants to have a monogamous relationship with him. He has told me that he is not ready for a relationship and has expressed that clearly to her. They continue to get drunk and fuck around. All fine and good except that I strongly suspect Girl to be the type to believe that she can sleep her way into a relationship with him. She has even approached me on occasion to ask if Boy possibly talks with me about their relationship. This is awkward as she does not know that I made out with him. I am doing my best to stay out of their relationship, and when questioned I gently told her that she should ask Boy directly if she wants to know his feelings. She responded, “Oh we’ve talked about it. Many times. That’s the problem.”

My question (finally) is whether I am somehow betraying Girl if I continue pursuing a physical relationship with Boy? If Boy was involved with a girl I did not know I would not be concerned in the slightest provided she knew the situation (Boy does not plan on being monogamous). But since I know Girl and consider her somewhat of a friend I find myself feeling like I am betraying some kind of sisterhood by going after the man she wants. I also think that if Boy were to tell Girl that he and I were involved she would be hurt and angry with me. I worry that she would possibly try to make it look like I was the reason Boy would not commit to her among our mutual friends who are generally not too poly/kinky but who know that I am. Am I crazy to be thinking about taking this risk? Usually I would just step away from such a charged situation but I have been waiting years for a crack at Boy. What’s the ethical thing to do?

An interesting question. This is why doing polyamory with people who don’t already identify as polyamorous can be very challenging. The short answer is: I don’t think you’re doing anything that’s ethically wrong. But I think this situation could be right-er.

First let’s focus on you. You’re responsible for your own behavior and for taking care of your own needs. If I were you, I’d say to this Boy, “Hey, I dig you and I’d like to continue down this path, but you need to tell Girl that we’re having this involvement, because it’s really feeling weird for me to keep it from her.” I think that’s an entirely reasonable thing to say. If he refuses to do that, I’d call that a big red flag.

After he tells her, I think I’d initiate one short conversation with her in which I’d say, “Hey, you’re my friend, and I have no problem with you being involved with Boy. This might be a little complicated, but it’s my intention to behave ethically and honestly in both my relationship with him and my relationship with you, and I hope we can all handle this like adults.”

I understand that you feel uneasy about that, but I do think it’s the lesser of two evils, because trust me, she’ll find out. In a situation like this where you all know each other, people always do. Being up-front about it now will not only be better for your own karma, it will cut the ground from beneath a lot of her indignation. Carrying on a long-term deception will just make it seem as if you were doing something wrong. And that you knew it.

She’ll have whatever response to this she has, but what you are not responsible for is other people’s feelings. If she’s upset because he’s dating other people, well, gee, that’s a shame, but that’s not your dog. He’s the one in charge of making choices about that. You are definitely not betraying a sisterhood or anything like that, so don’t apologize for your involvement with him. Why would you feel she had some right to be involved with him that took precedence over yours?

It is not your job to process her feelings with her about you two being involved. In fact, unless she shows a big change in her attitude about the situation, I personally would decline to have much further conversation about him with her, period.

So I think you’re on solid ground ethically. Socially, you may run into a bit of drama. I think most grown-up people will understand that if Boy wanted to be in a monogamous relationship with Girl, he would be, and that if he’s not, it’s not your fault. What, are you holding a gun to his head? Once in while you do run into people who are silly or spiteful enough to think otherwise. One does find out who one’s real friends are, in such situations, and I say that as someone who’s been in a similar circumstance myself. Would I let such a thing stop me from pursing a relationship I wanted? No, because I’m one of those publish and be damned! types who dislikes bowing to the threat of social disapproval. I have never regretted it, but your mileage may vary.

One other possible downside: if they do wind up having a monogamous relationship, your friendship with both of them could end, because she’ll be threatened and he’ll find it awkward.

Now that I’ve said all that, I will also remark that in terms of making this go as smoothly as possible, Boy is really the question mark. You've told me that you're an experienced poly person, so we assume that you’ll handle it well, and we can also assume that Girl is going to be angsty about it, although hopefully in a manageable way. But Boy’s behavior is going to make it or break it. The line, “They continue to get drunk and fuck around” does not fill me with confidence that Boy is someone who’s highly conscious of poly ethics. But I hope, for your sake, that before the drunkenness and fucking, he’s also being as clear as he says he is about his intentions, and that he continues to be clear, and to keep good boundaries around his two involvements.

Good luck to you…

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