Through a polyamory contact on facebook, I found this letter to “Dear Prudence,” a advice column at Slate.com, this morning:
I’m a 27-year-old woman who recently made friends with a nice, attractive 34-year-old man. He asked me out for drinks soon thereafter and made it clear that he’s interested in a romantic relationship. He’s my type, and I like him, but after our date he explained that he’s in an open marriage. I have no doubt that it’s a mutual agreement between him and his wife. And I’m in a situation that makes the idea especially appealing: I just got out of a two-year relationship that was sexually unsatisfying (my boyfriend rarely climaxed). It left me feeling as if there’s something wrong with me. The idea of a fling with someone new, with no commitment potential and nothing to lose, seems like it could be a positive ego boost for me as I look for single, available men to date. New guy is saying: Let me be your rebound! Let’s be friends with benefits! But most of my friends think it’s a morally objectionable thing to do and doubt that I can get involved without getting my feelings hurt in the long run. What do you think?
—Want a Fling
This letter concerns an issue that more and more people are going to be thinking about as non-monogamy starts to spread throughout our culture more relevantly. And yet a relatively well-known advice columnist drops the ball on it, as I have seen many of them do in recent years. I think we need a newer set of advice columnists in the world.
Now, before we start let me say that not all of the advice is terrible, but what it demonstrates is a couple of things: For one, Yoffe is obviously unfamiliar with polyamory. She may know the word, but she certainly has not bothered to educate herself about any form of responsible non-monogamy. Another thing is that her views on relationships are, well, old hat. Let’s look at her response in parts, and I will respond to them in terms of what I was thinking as I read the piece.
I wish you’d explained why you are so certain that this guy’s wife is also party to the information that they have an “open marriage.”
This is actually a fair point, but the way it’s made makes me wonder a little whether “Prudie” may addressing the problem too strongly and in the wrong way. Yes, it is important, when approaching polyamory, an open relationship, etc, that you have some way to be relatively sure that knowledge and consent exists from other people involved with your person of interest. But in this case I’m willing to take the letter-writer’s certainty for granted, and hoped that Prudie would answer the question as if it were true. It seems to me that the real issue here is how “Want a Fling” could deal with an actual open relationship and not how to spot false ones. Perhaps I’m being over-sensitive about that.
But hen, she goes on:
I’m assuming that he didn’t text a photo of you to his wife in the middle of your date with the note, “Things are going well!” I bet if you decided to have an affair with him, it would quickly become clear your relationship is surreptitious and you would have to go along with his rules.
Why are you assuming that? Has Prudie never actually met real people with open relationships? Does she assume this is code for “I’m cheating” or “my wife/husband will not really care…so long as nobody tells her/him” in most (or all) cases? This is a kind of poisoning the well before we can even address how to think about dealing with a potential relationship with a married, but open, person. Rather than address the real issue here, Prudie is tipping her hand and revealing that she is probably not in favor of open relationships.
Don’t worry, it gets
It doesn’t speak well for this this man’s character (no matter what arrangement he and his wife have) that he withheld the central fact of his being married until after the seductive banter and drinks.
So, this is a great example of monogamous privilege at work. Prudie has obvious not thought this through. There may be reasons that this man wanted to keep his open relationship hidden at first. They may have to do with his job, his family, etc and so he only tells people to whom this information is pertinent; like someone he’d like to date, have sex with, etc. Perhaps he just wanted to spend some time with her to find out if that’s what he really wanted before telling her.
I have been in similar situations before, and done the same thing (although now I divulge this as early as possible to people I’m into, being that I’m completely out of the closet. Not all people have the privilege of doing so). I believe that one should always reveal the nature of their relationship status to potential partners early, certainly before any sexual relationship develops, but not always immediately. During or after the first date is a pretty good time to let your interest know, I think, so I disagree with Prudie here pretty strongly.
However, I understand the appeal of a commitment-free sex romp after coming out of a sexually frustrating relationship. But before you give him the benefit of the doubt regarding his friends-with-benefits proposal, make two counterproposals of your own. One is that you two get to know each other better first. I’m guessing he won’t want to invest too much time in activities unrelated to said benefits. Another is that given his history, you need to get a current STD status on him. Again, I assume he’s not going to be interested in generating any paperwork in order to get in the sack with you.
OK, so there is a lot here, so let’s break it down.
Want a Fling has made it pretty clear that she is at least fine with the idea of no commitment fun, and yet Prudie advises a counter-proposal that would imply taking it slow and safely to scare the (probably cheating and lying, amirite?) man away. The problem with this is that the man has said (according to the letter-writer; the only source of information we have here) that he’s interested in a romantic relationship. But rather than pick up on this, Prudie thinks that slowing it down and asking for proof of STD cleanliness (which any responsible non-monogamous person would be fine with demonstrating) will expose the lies, rather than potentially turn Want a Fling’s interest in some fun into a situation where it might actually become a potential relationship. You know, like polyamory.
If the man is actually in an open relationship and is actually interested in a romantic relationship, then this advice will sound fine to him. I know if I were this man and the woman came back with that counter-proposal, I’d be fine with it. Now, if that’s Prudie’s intent (to separate the wheat from the chaff, as it were) then fine, but why all the cynical and distrustful language in the response? Why the negativity towards this being a real thing? Why the negativity towards non-monogamy?
But even if he demonstrates he’s disease free, consider that aside from the moral questions about a married man, investing your time in one does have a cost. You think you can be looking for that real partner while you are carrying on with this guy. But, as your friends have warned, you can’t anticipate what happens to your emotions once you get involved with someone.
And this revels the problem; Prudie seems to have a view that having a relationship with a married person is immoral in general. It does not seem to matter whether the relationship is open or not, because even if the wife agrees there is something inherently wrong about this situation. Because if Want a Fling actually starts to like this married man (and what if he starts to really like here? I don’t know what this particular man means by “open”) then that’s bad, right?
Well, not necessarily. I know many polyamorous people who use the term “open” to describe their relationship status. I don’t know if this man, or his wife, would be OK with more than just sexy fun (they should be, IMHO), so I cannot say any more about that. But Prudie demonstrates here that she is really unfamiliar with this dynamic which many people live with all the time, and this is problematic for an advice columnist. All she can do is warn of false openness or the fact that she might start to like him. The horror.
But, to cap it all off:
If this affair gets hot and heavy, it will likely make the available men seem lukewarm and lightweight in comparison. Keep at the forefront of your mind that your goal is to find your own life partner, not borrow someone else’s.
Holy fucking shit she did not just say that! I mean, she did, but holy fuckballs how is this person an advice columnist? Should such people have some actual perspective on things before they are allowed to get paid for this shit?
Anyway, this is terrible. One, this man is available. He’s in an open relationship. His wife does not own him. He does not belong to her. Want a Fling is not borrowing property the way she would go to a neighbor to borrow their weed-wacker or someshit. She is considering having a relationship with another person, who also happens to have a relationship with other people. Just like we all do (but with sex, which is apparently the way we own people).
And how would this relationship becoming hot and heavy effect other potential partners? The man is obviously non-monogamous, so Want a Fling could be so as well, if she wanted. She could have a few lovers to help her gain some confidence in her sexuality again, if she wanted. Perhaps she could even have relationships with, and care about, all of them.
And who said anything about Want a Fling’s goals? Why should her goal be to find a life partner? Perhaps she doesn’t want that at all. Perhaps she just wants to have flings with men who are in open relationships. Perhaps she does not know exactly what she wants, but she just wants to try some thing out to learn more (something that, perhaps, Emily Yoffe could have done more of).
Bottom line: Some people should not be giving advice. I don’t know much about Emily Yoffe, but I think she needs to gain some more life experience and perspective about relationships before she starts giving more advice. We need more poly-friendly advice-givers.
Hey Slate, hire me.