Kitchen Table or Parallel? – Ten Questions to Ask on a Poly First Date

“Hey! Been trying to meet you

Hey! Must be a Devil between us

Or whores in my head, whores at the door, whore in my bed

But Hey! Where have you been?

–The Pixies, “Hey”

Hey, my kinky polyam peeps! I gotta be honest: While this is a BDSM and Polyamory blog, I do feel a little more partial to my poly entries. Maybe because it’s the BDSM ones that tend to be more technical while the polyamory ones let me flex my creative juices, I just feel like there’s a lot more freedom in where these entries can take me. I just sit down, shut out the world, and let the words flow onto the page.

Being the hyper-fixated, left-brained individual that I am, I love lists! When I worked on the podcast, they made for great shows because they have a natural format that works really well for audio. Likewise, for the written medium, they’re like a story that has a clear beginning, middle, and end, so we’re gonna devote this entry to one of those lists. Today we’re gonna be discussing “Ten Questions to Ask on a Poly First Date”

Now, for starters, I will say that a lot of these questions are super personal, so I’m using the term “first date” kinda loosely. How frequently you get tested for STIs usually isn’t something you discuss on your first trip to Starbucks. Regardless, these are all super important questions, and the sooner they are addressed with your new found romantic interest, the healthier the potential relationship will be. Also, if you want to view the TikTok video I’m stealing all this material from, click here.

1. “What does cheating in Polyamory mean to you?” – I like to define “cheating” as “anything that you do that, if your partner found out about, you would be ashamed of”. Even with such a broad definition, I feel the need to qualify. I often say that shame is the gift we give ourselves, meaning that so much shame comes from things that we really shouldn’t be ashamed of. As someone who lives with a partner with anxiety, I’m well aware that shame can be something of our own creation.

When I talk about “shame” in the sense of cheating, I mean “is the action something that you know your partner would disagree with or have a reasonable suspicion they would disagree with it.” An example I like to use for mono relationships is going to a strip club. There are some individuals who view a night out at an adult bar as an act of infidelity. If your partner is one of those people and you’ve done this without prior communication, you’re a cheater.

Now, notice how I said “without prior communication”. Going to the strip club isn’t cheating in and of itself. It’s the fact that you did it behind your partners back that matters. If you’re looking to engage in an activity that your partner may object to, you owe it to them to have a conversation. If they continue to object, you and your partner then need to decide how important this issue is to your relationship and what action to take next. Your partner never has the right to tell you what to do, and your partner also has a right to decide what behavior they are willing to tolerate.

Given how important poly people view autonomy, cheating isn’t something that happens very often. While we all have our personal boundaries, rarely do those boundaries place limits on our partners behaviors, unless those behaviors place us at personal risk (rules about using protection during sexual encounters is a common example). Still, for reasons I don’t full understand, cheating still exists in the poly community, and a conversation must be had by you and your partner about how to address it.

2. “How do you unpack jealousy?” – A very common question I see repeated in numerous poly discussion groups, especially by new members, is “How do I overcome my feelings of jealousy?” The answer is very simple:

“You don’t”.

Jealousy is a feeling no different than anger, sadness, joy, or fear. To ask “How do I stop feeling jealous” is akin to asking “How do I stop feeling hungry?” All feelings are valid. There is nothing wrong with how you feel. What matters, and where the confusion over jealousy arises, is how you act on those feelings.

I’ll admit that I’m one of the fortunate ones who rarely experiences jealousy. The first time Panda had an overnight with one of her partners, I woke up in our queen size bed alone feeling perfectly okay with the fact my wife had spent the night in someones else’s bed without me. In fact, I felt so okay with it that I actually started to feel frightened that my lack of jealousy equated to a lack of love. Apparently, I had normalized jealousy as a sign of romantic attraction, which was a whole other mess I wound up having to deal with. The point is, it’s never been a major problem for me. However, on the rare occasions when I do feel it, there’s three things I do that help me navigate it.

  1. Own it – I’ve been blessed (cursed?) with a high level of self-awareness. My friends and therapist tell me all the time. When I start to feel jealous, I tell myself “This is normal. We need to work through this.”
  2. Vocalize it – Whoever that jealousy is targeted around, I immediately talk to them about it. I remember last summer when Vixen started seeing a new partner. We were just coming out of the NRE stage, which may have been a contributing factor. I told her “I’m very happy for you and this new person. I feel obligated to tell you that I’m experiencing some jealousy. This is my problem and I will work through it. I just wanted you to know.” You’d be amazed how just talking about the problem begins to alleviate it.
  3. Work it – As someone who’s had self-esteem issues and a martyr complex his whole life, this is the hardest part for me. I have to constantly remind myself that my partners are with me by choice. That even though I may not see it, they see something of value in me and no one can take that away.

3. “Do you practice safe sex?” – I feel like this is not only self-explanatory, but a question you should ask any new partner, poly or not. Everyone has their own definition of what constitutes “safe sex”. For a committed, monogamous relationship, fluid bonding (the absence of any protection under the agreement that the relationship will be strictly monogamous) may be perfectly acceptable. For those that have more than one sexual partner, there needs to be a discussion not only of what forms of protection will be used to prevent STIs and pregnancy, but how often STI testing will take place.

While the frequency of how often you get tested is your choice, best practices include at least once a year for penis owners and once every six months for vagina owners because STIs can be more dangerous to the female anatomy. In addition to this, it’s always a good idea to get an STI test when adding a new partner to your polycule.

4. “Do your partners have veto power” – I’ve mentioned numerous times on this blog that the poly community holds personal autonomy in high regard and I hold it higher than most. For me, veto power is an instant deal breaker. I recognize that not every poly person feels the way I do, so let’s delve a little bit into what veto power is.

Much like in politics, in which a President of Governor has the power to veto a bill that Congress has approved, veto power works the same way in a relationship. If two individuals agree on a course of action, one of those individual’s partners has the right to “veto” that decision. For instance, Vixen and I have decided that Tuesday is our “date night”, and around once a month we will do an overnight. If Panda has veto power, she may say “I’m not comfortable with that arrangement” and “veto it”, and which point Vixen and I would need to make other arrangements that would be agreeable to Panda.

If that sounds kinda shitty, that’s because it is. It’s important to note that partners are always allowed to enforce their own boundaries, and when we discuss veto power, it’s rarely used in relation to matters concerning health and safety. For instance, if Vixen and I decided we were no longer going to use protection during sex, I fully expect Panda to react with a “Oh HELL NO!” because this is something that is putting her health and safety at risk. Rather, veto powers are usually exercised as an unhealthy way to fight of jealousy and an excuse to get out of doing “the work” that goes along with being polyamorous.

There’s a reason Unicorn Hunting is frowned upon so severely in the poly community. A big aspect of triads formed this way is veto power. Because couples who Unicorn Hunt expect the Unicorn to be in a relationship with both members of the existing couple, if the Unicorn begins to develop stronger feelings for one partner over another (which, by the way, is inevitable because it’s human nature), the spurned partner will exercise their veto power to kick the Unicorn out of the dynamic in an effort to “save” the pre-existing relationship. Long story short, veto power is a bad idea, and if you find the need to use it, ask yourself “Why?” More often than not, it’s because of some pre-existing insecurity you have, not something caused by your partner and your meta.

5. “How do you unpack couples privilege” – Like jealousy, couples privilege is something that almost every poly person has to deal with, but to significantly varying degrees. In a nutshell, couples privilege are those rights that are attached to established couples in a “monogamy-by-default” society. It’s especially difficult for those of us who are still in the “poly closet”. It can present itself as “who gets to go with your partner to their family dinner” or “who attends as the ‘plus one’ to a work event”. It can even go as far as who gets medical visitation privileges if a spouse is sick or who gets visitation rights to children in a poly relationship. As polyamory becomes more complex, it pushes itself even further against societal and legal norms that simply weren’t set up for a multi-partner relationship and family.

How couple’s privilege affects you and how you choose to deal with it boils down to how much of a problem you and your partners see it as. Personally, my partner’s couples privilege was never something that really bothered me. To steal a line from Outkast, “Don’t want to meet your Daddy, just want you in my Caddie”. Not being invited to work functions or family engagements was never something that bothered me. That’s not to say that I shouldn’t discuss my couples privilege with my partners. As someone who practices solo poly (a poly person who chooses not to have a nesting partner) I asked Penguin what I could do to make her feel more included, because I can’t bring her around my parents as that would raise questions I don’t want to answer. Her response was really simple: “I love that you put my picture as the home screen on your phone and how you tag me on Facebook when we go out in public”. Unpacking couples privilege doesn’t need to involve drastic life changes. Sometimes it’s nothing more than making sure your partners know that they are loved.

6. “How many times a week do you want to see your next partner” – This is a really important question that can make or break a poly relationship because it sets up expectations of what the relationship will look like going forward. There’s no right or wrong answer, however, it’s important as each individual has their own needs for physical companionship.

As someone with five partners, I’m often asked how I can manage such a large number, as a lot of my friends in the poly community typically have only two or three. The answer comes from the fact that most of my partners don’t need a large amount of physical interaction. Panda is my nesting partner, I see Vixen and Penguin once a week, Bunny and I chat on the phone and text every day, and as for Foxy, since they’re out of state, the occasional text and long weekend visit every few months is all they need to keep me at front of mind.

7. “What are your love languages” – For those unaware, the five love languages were created by Christian author Gary Marshall in 1992 in his book “The Five Love Languages”. Now, I know there’s a lot of well-deserved controversy around the love languages because Marshall has since come out as very Anti-LGBTQ and made statements regarding “reverse-racism” and the suffering of “White Christians”, however, even terrible people can sometimes do good things, and as someone in the poly community once told me “We take what we need and leave behind the rest”.

Why are learning your partner’s love languages important? Well, simply put, according to Marshall, it’s how we give and show love. It’s not that different from a verbal language. If I only speak English and don’t know Spanish, and my partner only speaks Spanish and doesn’t know English, we’re going to have a hard time trying to communicate. Learning your partner’s love languages is akin to learning how they physically and emotionally communicate so you can be a stronger, more supportive partner.

Of the five love languages (Acts of Service, Words of Affirmation, Gift Giving, Quality Time, and Physical Touch), mine are Quality Time and Physical Touch. What that means to me is the way I receive love is through A) hugs, kisses, and cuddles, and B) simply being there. To me, a date doesn’t have to be romantic. We don’t have to go out to a fancy dinner, or see a movie, or go dancing. To me, a date is anything where I can be with my partners and hold their hand. One of my favorite “dates” is when I visit a partner’s house and we just go about what we need to do that day, but do it in each other’s company. Maybe I’ll go to Penguin’s house with my laptop and work on my blog while she sews together a new dress. Panda and I call it “Being alone, together”. Fortunately for me, my partner’s love languages more or less line up with mine. If yours don’t, that’s okay. It just means you need to look for ways to make your partners feel loved, even if it’s not the way that you would choose to receive love.

8. “Why are you polyamorous” – I mentioned to Panda’s partner Kitty Kinz, as she joined us for Bad Hallmark Christmas Movie Night, that this is a really important question to ask. It’s one of the few questions you can ask a partner that does have a right or wrong answer. While you don’t need to grill your partner on their entire poly journey, this question is meant to weed out any potential red flags early on in the relationship.

Some people, like Penguin or Bunny will tell you that they were “born poly”, meaning that, as soon as they hit adolescence, they knew monogamy was never going to be right for them. Other people, like Panda and I, or Vixen and her husband, started monogamous, and then discovered polyamory later in life and decided this was going to be their preferred method to express love

Sing it, George!

When asking that question, what you want to look out for are any answers that could potentially point towards a rationale that seeks to put a “band-aid” on any underlying emotional issues. Answers could be along the lines of “My partner travels a lot and I want someone to spend time with while they’re away”, or “My partner and I are looking to broaden our sexual experiences”. Polyamory is not the answer to problems in a monogamous relationship. Never has, never will be. Clarifying intentions early will save a lot of headaches down the line.

9. “What is your relationship structure” – Like the question about how often you would like to see your next partner, this question is important in setting up expectations for what any potential future relationship will look like. It’s been said “There’s no wrong way to poly” (although I would argue some relationship structures are healthier than others) and you and your potential partner want to ensure that whatever structure you agree upon, it will work for both of you. Perhaps you’re “Kitchen Table Polyamory” (KTP) where all your partners and metas engage in group activities on a regular basis. Perhaps you’re “Parallel Polyamory” in which you rarely engage in your metas. It’s been my experience that most poly people actually fall somewhere in between where they have small “side polycules” that they bounce around in between. Think of it like your “work friends” versus your “school friends” versus your “home friends”. Whatever structure you and your new potential partner agree upon, make sure it’s something that everyone can live with.

10. “What type of boundaries do you have” – I’ve heard that the difference between a boundary and a rule is that a boundary is something you place on yourself, while a rule is something you place on someone else. Notice that the content of the rule and boundary can be exactly the same. What matters is where the onus for responsibility lies. This echoes what we’ve spoken about time and time again on this blog, which is the importance that the poly community places on personal autonomy. “You can’t make me do something, and I can’t stop you from doing it”.

What is and isn’t considered a reasonable boundary in the poly community is still up for debate. I just had a great conversation with Vixen last night over the merits of a One Penis Policy (an agreement in which cis women can be romantically involved with other cis men, but agree only to be sexually involved with their primary cis male partner). All agreements are based upon consent, and it’s important to ask both ourselves as well as our community how we define what informed consent looks like.

Like mono relationships, no poly relationship is perfect. Each one continues to grow and change as we as individuals evolve and mature. As you meet new people in the poly community and explore new relationships, remember that who we are today isn’t necessarily who we will be tomorrow, so give both yourself and your partners the grace to understand what is ultimately right for them and the relationship.

I hope everyone enjoys a wonderful Holiday season and, until next time, stay kinky, my friends…

–The Bratty Cat

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