Comparing Partner Numbers

When you and your partner seem to be playing polyamory chicken over who has the first relationship, how do you resolve it?

ENM relationship here. I am not sure if I should tell my partner about my dates anymore. I feel like he gets his hopes up and starts dating hard and fast, in result. Thinking I'm doing the same. I have a lot a dates, but no where we it has gotten physical yet.It always seems to fizzle out before then and before I have a chance to say anything he has playmate sessions.Should I only tell him I'm on a date when I am guaranteed to get laid? 

There are two problems here that aren’t really being addressed, because this isn’t really about what point you disclose to your partner.

First, there seems to be a competitive element between the two of you that doesn’t seem to be being discussed. It’s relatively normal from what I have seen for people to feel a rush, even if it’s not directly competitive, to date and find another partner when their partner is also dating.

This pressure can come from the partner who is actively dating because they’re worried about things being “unequal” between their partner or from the partner that isn’t actively dating because they know that they may have to face the obvious — their partner will have less time for them and that’s really when the rubber meets the road of non-monogamy. It’s easy, up until that point, to sort of mentally be monogamous even if you have agreed to non-monogamy and are theoretically onboard with it.

That competitive element needs to be addressed. Why does your partner “get his hopes up”? Have you discussed with each other what your ideals are in non-monogamy? Do you have an idea of how many partners you’d like? What will your schedule be once you do have that many partners? Do you have set days between the two of you that can’t be overridden by dates with other people?

Why is he not dating “hard and fast” otherwise? You really need to have a discussion between the two of you about this. If he’s experiencing anxiety because he doesn’t know how your life will change if you do have a date that becomes a relationship then the best way of handling that is to address it directly. How *will* your life change if you have another relationship? Talk about it and work it out now.

Secondly, why are you bothered if he has playmate sessions? Is there a score you’re both trying to keep between you and why? It’s actually quite typical for one partner to have more dates than the other. Not everything is going to be perfectly balanced and equal all of the time and it’s unrealistic for you all to play chicken with one another until everything is “equal” not only because it’s impossible for you to gauge what relationships really mean to each other and “equate” that but also because it’s extremely unfair to anyone who actually gets involved with either of you.

During the time I had a steady live-in partner, they had a lot more interest in casual sex than I ever have and they would regularly have people I would define as “partners” because they saw them regularly, went out on dates and slept together. But my partner did not define these people as “partners”.

So how would we decide what is “equal” between the two of us when we don’t even have the same definitions of what makes a “partner”? It might be worth you actually discussing what a “partner” is and what it means, especially since you seem to equate having sex with a date as “something more” when that may not be the case necessarily.

Keep in mind as well that it’s not fair for the other person involved to have the pace of your relationship basically set by what’s going on in your partner’s relationship. Different relationships develop in different ways and they aren’t always equitable or comparable.

So why should a relationship you have with someone be determined by some type of “equality” you’ve decided is important between your partner and you? You should allow these relationships to develop as and when. Once you decide what you want your life to look like in terms of the physicalities of non-monogamy, it becomes a lot easier for you to understand how other people fit into that and what can be compromised and what can’t be.

Lastly, just to re-address this, you’re asking if you should or shouldn’t disclose based on “get[ting] laid” but a relationship can “fizzle out” whether or not you have sex with one another. But overall the problem seems to be that you’re trying to decide when to disclose in order to control your partner’s “hopes” when really that needs to just be directly addressed. You both need to sit down and discuss what your “ideals” are in non-monogamy. How do you both want your lives to look? What do you foresee your schedules looking like?

I think it’s best to operate from that rather than waiting until you find partners for you to change up your schedules and lives. That way when you do have regular other partners, you’re not only not adjusting to less time together but also to the inevitable emotions that come with your partner dating others.

You also need to talk about how you define a “partner” and that might help you decide what time is *actually* good to disclose. You both need to accept that not everything is going to always be “equal” between the two of you. Sometimes you may have more dates than your partner and that’s pretty typical. 

It’s not realistic to expect that you’re always going to have an “equal” number of partners or an “equal” number of dates or that if you have partners that those relationships will be comparable. And I don’t think it’s helpful for you both to try and compare between the two of you — especially because if you operate from the point of your ideal then you don’t need to compare.

So for example, if your ideal is having three partners — one you live with and spend one dedicated night a week with and then you’re fine having one long distance one you may spend weekends with and then another one you have two date nights a week with — in this example you can operate from this standpoint from the start without having any other partners.

I would actually actively encourage you to set date nights — even if you live together — that you’ll always have with each other and actively go out on the nights you don’t have nights together. You don’t have to date. You could also get involved with hobbies, build friendships, and spend time with others outside of your relationship and learn to have that separation early before the complications of dealing with feelings come up.

And generally, I’d advise monogamous people to do this — invest in a life outside of their primary relationship and set clear times with each other because it’s very easy, especially if you live together, to take your time spent together for granted.

So, to sum up, while this seems to be about disclosure, that’s not the real issue that’s lying behind this. Address specifically this competitiveness between the two of you, set up and begin practicing as though you already have other partners, talk with each other about what a “partner” is and how you define it and abandon the concept of “equality” between the two of you in terms of partner numbers and stop comparing your scores with one another. Once you have a better idea of what a “partner” means and how your lives are structured, when you should disclose becomes a far, far easier discussion.