Help! I’m about to give up. I have been going on dates with people who already have a ‘primary’ partner and I am single. I just had my fourth experience where I’ve been told I can no longer see them because of their partner. I’ve communicated I don’t want to be treated as less than, but this keeps happening. What should I be asking these people before getting further involved? They swear there is honest and open communication but it seems like there isn’t…

First off, just keep at it. Dating is full of disappointments. Strings of bad luck just happen when you’re dating, sometimes. I had a friend date three women in a row who all broke things off with him after realizing they were gay. It really didn’t have much to do with him, or anything he was doing wrong, it was just a bummer of a coincidence. If one of your mono friends ended up dating four people in a row who all end things because they “have to focus on their career right now,” what would you tell them?

Second, reconsider where you’re meeting all these people. If you’re meeting them all through a similar channel, maybe the poly scene in that social sphere is unhealthy. Since people learn the practices and expectations of relationships from the world around them, polyamorous scenes can definitely take on their own cultural flavor. If there’s just this assumption in the air that primary partners always have veto power, go find dates somewhere outside of that bubble. 

Third, it’s okay to be clear up-front about your polyamorous practice and philosophy. You can say things like “I don’t believe in hierarchical polyamory,” or “I’ve had bad experiences being abandoned for the sake of a ‘primary’ relationship” in an OKC profile or during an early conversation. It’s okay to ask early on what a person’s polyamorous philosophy is like. In fact, I frequently ask people how they interpret and define their polyamory, which polyamorous books or thinkers or blogs they read, etc. Some people recoil at what they see as ‘interview’ or ‘qualifying’ questions early on in dating, but that’s their problem - I need someone who is okay with openness and clarity of expectations on both sides. 

Of course, you could ask all the right questions, and someone could swear to you up, down, left, right, and inside out that they are totally down for non-hierarchical polyamory and will never abandon you to avoid having a hard conversation with another partner and don’t believe in veto powers, and they could still be lying to you, or they could be telling the truth at the time and then change their mind later. There’s no guaranteed way to protect yourself from disappointment in dating brought on by other people’s frustrating choices. Just be your best self and keep on keeping on!