By Poly Philia
Let’s say you’ve done your research on non-monogamy, communicated with your partner about your respective boundaries, made some relationship agreements, and gotten STI-tested for good measure. Now, it’s time to put theory into practice, and actually start dating – which means not only getting comfortable with dating multiple people at once, but also getting used to your partner doing the same. Your partner’s first date can be a daunting prospect for many new non-monogamists if you are used to spending a lot of time together as a couple, particularly if you live together. This article is a guide for people who are experiencing this for the first time, taking you through the whole process from start to finish.
Before the Date
You may be feeling a lot of mixed emotions in the run-up to your partner’s date with someone else, ranging from nervousness to excitement to worry. It may be helpful to talk with your partner about what to expect, so you can emotionally prepare for whatever is within the realm of possibility of what they might do on the date (even if they do not actually end up doing all of those things when it comes down to it). Remember that you and your partner may have different thresholds for what you are willing to do on a first date, so assuming how they will behave may lead to unexpected surprises later that you didn’t emotionally prepare for. For example, some people are eager to jump into bed after a quick flirtation and a drink or two, while others take more time to warm up and may just want to have a chat and potentially a goodbye kiss if things go well. Don’t be afraid to ask questions, and don’t judge your partner if their approach to dating is different from yours!
If there are certain things your partner wants to do with their date that you feel uncomfortable about, it’s okay to voice your concerns about it. If you can, try and identify what activities specifically cause anxiety and why, so you can ask for reassurance of your partner’s love and commitment to you, or find other ways of addressing the issue. For example, if you live together and your partner wants to sleep over at their date’s house, you may be worried because you won’t be able to fall asleep without them there or feel sad because the idea of them waking up together in the morning is intimate and emotionally significant to you, so you would prefer for them to be home by a certain time. Some couples ease into non-monogamy by setting limitations on what they can do with others for the first few dates (e.g. no sex, no sleeping over, vanilla sex only), and then removing these ‘training wheels’ over time. There is nothing inherently wrong with this if everyone involved (which includes the date, not just the couple!) consents to the arrangement, but in non-hierarchical dynamics, having your partner control the progression of your other relationships runs the risk of setting a harmful precedent long-term. Additionally, if you do set such limitations, be mindful of how realistic they are and allow for some flexibility in case your partner gets carried away in the heat of the moment, loses track of time so they are unable to get home, or falls asleep at their date’s house by accident.
If you feel up to it, it might be a good idea to help your partner prepare for their date. Some people take joy in being involved in the process, such as by picking their partner’s outfit, suggesting potential venues, driving or accompanying them to the date itself, or packing their overnight bag. Your partner may be nervous for their date as well, so it’s nice to have a helping hand and an encouraging partner to support them for the occasion. However, this is absolutely not necessary to do, and it may even be unproductive if you are going to be a ball of nerves which may affect your partner’s mood before the date. Try not to rain on their parade just before they leave, so your partner can go on their date with a relatively clear conscience!
During the Date
Being alone while your partner is having fun with someone else can be anxiety-inducing and may even lead to distressing feelings of abandonment for some people. In such scenarios it may be tempting to call or text your partner and interrupt their date so they can come and reassure you in the moment. However, it is also important to respect not only your partner’s time with someone else, but also that of your potential future metamour, who likely spent a lot of time, energy, and money getting ready for and going to the date just like your partner did. As mentioned above, it is inadvisable to set a precedent of controlling your partner’s time with others, so try not to cut your partner’s date short except in cases of actual emergency.
Some couples set specific times to check in with each other during dates, which can be helpful for a variety of reasons. For example, if your partner is changing locations to go from a bar to their date’s home, they may send you the address for the sake of their personal safety, or let you know what time to expect them to be home by. They may utilise bathroom breaks during the date to quickly send an update on how it is going, so you don’t have to handle hours of radio silence from them – but just be careful not to keep them in there for too long! The frequency of these check-ins highly depend on the relationship and on how comfortable you all feel; some people cope better with not knowing anything until the date is over, while others appreciate some information to help them stay grounded. Keep in mind, too, that some dates are more gracious than others about time taken away to check your phone, while others may get irritable that the time that is meant to be devoted to them is being interrupted, so act within reason.
Wherever possible, find ways to self-soothe instead of sending yourself down an emotional spiral, which may lead you to catastrophising the situation. The Jealousy Workbook by Kathy Labriola has some helpful exercises to assist during a jealousy crisis and remind yourself that the emotions you are feeling are temporary, and that your partner will be back with you eventually. You may find it helpful to compile an album of photos and screenshots of cute texts to go through in moments of insecurity, or to look at old cards, gifts, and love letters as they are tangible reminders of your partner’s love. It might also be a good idea to plan something to do for yourself: catch up on that TV show or video game, watch that movie your partner doesn’t like, read a book, take a bath, or masturbate to relieve anxiety! By setting regular self-care time during your partner’s date, you can eventually work towards your time apart being something you both look forward to, rather than something you dread.
If you really need to talk to someone, find a trusted (and more importantly, non-monogamy-informed!) friend or family member to speak with. If you just want to feel your feelings and distracting yourself doesn’t work, try not to do too much of it to the point of wallowing in self-pity. You can even choose to go on a date yourself if you are feeling particularly sociable, though make sure that you are doing this because you actually want to have a good time, rather than as a way to vent about your feelings at an unsuspecting stranger.
After the Date
Whether your partner had a good or a bad time on their date, they may want to talk about it with you. Be mindful of the privacy and boundaries of everyone involved – your partner’s date may not want some sensitive information being shared with you, and you may not want to hear some of the things your partner has done. If you are unsure what you are comfortable with hearing, it may be helpful to ask closed questions rather than open-ended ones. Questions like “What food/drinks did you have?”, “Did they look like their photos?”, or “Did you kiss them?” are specific and to the point, whereas vaguer ones like “So what were they like?” or “What did you talk about?” may lead to your partner exposing you to information you are not emotionally ready or willing to hear. By asking precise questions, you can better control what details you want to know and actually consent to hearing the answer.
Sometimes, it may not be what your partner is telling you about the date, but how they are telling it. For example, if your partner had a good time and is glowing with excitement while spilling the details, their expressions and energy may be overwhelming. In such scenarios, it is okay to ask them to tone it down a little so you can more comfortably hear the rest of what happened. Or, you could choose not to hear about it at all – but only if you are doing so for the right motivations. “Don’t ask, don’t tell” arrangements tend to only work where it is due to a genuine lack of interest in hearing about your partner’s other relationships, rather than by a desire to bury your head in the sand and stay in denial of the connections your partner is having. The latter motivation can lead to stagnation of much-needed personal growth and avoiding the confrontation of your personal insecurities, both of which are key to practising healthy, long-term non-monogamy.
Finally, you and your partner can take the opportunity to come back to each other after your time apart. Establish a “reconnection ritual” for you to do after each date with another person to strengthen your bond and create a sense of comfort and familiarity. You could join your partner in the shower and wash each other’s bodies while having an intimate conversation, cuddle on the sofa together, or, if you’re both in the mood and have the energy to do so, have sex. Some couples even use the details from the date itself as a way to reconnect; for example, if the date consents to sexual information being shared, it can be fun and arousing to talk in great detail about the sex that was had, and use what you’ve learned as fodder for your own sex lives.
Your partner’s first date with someone else is an important milestone, and it’s easy to feel scared and insecure in the early stages. However, over time, as new patterns are established and your mind and body gets used to your partner coming back to you every time, you’ll quickly realise that your partner’s love for you is safer and stronger than you think.