Lines of Appropriateness

My Metamour, Chesh, and I had an interesting chat a couple weeks back. It related to polyamory – so, of course, I have to write a blog post about it! The basic premise we were discussing was, which typically-accepted “rules” of dating in mono-culture also apply to polyamory, and to what extent can they be extrapolated out when one is part of not just a couple, but a tribe, family or extended network?

An easy example: in mono-world, it is generally considered a bad idea to sleep with your colleagues. Plenty of people do it anyway, but it is widely accepted as unwise. In polyamory, I’d say this rule still applies – but can also be extended to suggest that sleeping with your partner’s or metamour’s workmates isn’t really appropriate, either. (This is kind of a shame, as someone in my immediate poly family has a colleague who is really cute and exactly my type, but such is life.)

This could easily make things really, really difficult for multiple people involved. What if you break up? You might never have to see the person again, but your partner or metamour might have to see them at the office every single day. What if someone isn’t “out?” Suddenly the potential for accidental “outing” has probably increased threefold. Isn’t mixing dating and work – even if indirectly – a Really Bad Idea?

Let’s look at another example: close friends. Don’t people generally advise against starting a romantic and/or sexual relationship with your best friend, because the potential for drama and the loss of a friendship is just too significant? I don’t personally think this is always something to be avoided, but certainly something to be careful of.

I don’t think this is quite so clear-cut when it comes to polyamory – I wouldn’t absolutely rule out dating someone just because they were a partner’s friend (pre-existing the relationship, that is – of course I want my partners to be friends with each other!) but I’d be… wary. Likewise, I don’t like to say that I would veto a relationship between a partner of mine and a close friend of mine…. but I’d be concerned, and this does come with caveats. My closest friends are like siblings to me. And I’d be seriously freaked if my partner slept with my (biological) sibling. It would follow, then, that it’d pretty massively freak me out if my partner got involved with a friend with whom I have that level of connection. Yes, I know it’s not exactly the same, but the emotional squick is remarkably similar.

So this one is… tricky. Like all things, it probably has to be navigated according to everyone’s individual comfort levels, the strength of the friendship, the seriousness of the relationship, and any myriad of other factors.

Personally I’d suggest when in doubt, steer clear.

And finally, we come to arguably the thorniest issue of all: exs. It seems to be (correct me if I’m wrong, it’s been a while since I lived full-time in Mono World) considered a Bad Bad Thing to date your friend’s ex – especially among women. Often, between two friends, one becoming involved with the other’s ex is the worst betrayal imaginable.

In polyamory, this can be a tricky one because there are a lot of complicated and multi-layered networks, and the community (and thus the pool of ‘available’ people to date) is significantly smaller.

With this one, I think a lot of it depends on the ex. I’d be incredibly angry, hurt and betrayed if a partner or metamour (or, for that matter, a good friend) slept with the ex who abused me for years, or the man who tried to rape me on our first date. But if they were to want to get involved with someone who didn’t really hurt me, someone with whom things just hadn’t worked out for whatever reason…. it might feel a little weird at first, but I’d probably ultimately be okay with it.

The other way around, I’d use similar judgement. I would never even vaguely consider any involvement with someone who broke my partner’s (or metamour’s or friend’s) heart, or someone who abused them or treated them very badly. Someone they’d had an amicable breakup with, a long time ago? Eh…. I’d check their comfort levels and respect them, of course, but much more likely to be okay.

What do you think, lovely readers? Is it inappropriate to get involved with your partner or metamour’s colleague? Best friend? Ex? I’m still working out my thoughts on this, and I’ll probably do a follow-up post at some point. Let’s hear some opinions on this!

11 thoughts on “Lines of Appropriateness

  1. Chesh says:

    I think the phrase you are looking for is, “How much DRAMA will this cause my family of choice?”, as it could vary massively from sitch to sitch. If you wanted to date my ex, J., I’d be okay with that (although he’s in Boston, my emphasis is really that it was an amiable breakup and we are still friends). If you wanted to date my ex, E., my reaction would be “Good Gods, WHY would you subject yourself to that?!?!” (He was incredibly unbalanced and frequently off his meds.)

    Some of what you are talking about is the question of safety, and some is practicality. There’s a difference between “Date my colleagues when I’m not out of the parrot cage? That could put my job at risk.” (So please don’t. :D) versus “That’s a little weird, but I could cope”…

  2. Dragonmamma says:

    Seem like reasonable limitations to me. Your basic principle here seems to be along the lines of “an it hurt none” which I would have thought made good guidelines.

  3. Jules says:

    Re dating exes, coming from the goth community, it’s very difficult NOT to date someone’s ex, because it is a small community. But again, it’s a subculture, so the rules are slightly different.

  4. Kerran says:

    Colleague’s are never a good idea, Poly or Mono it mixes relationship issues with work responsibilities. That’s not good news for the job, or the home life. I’ve seem too many teachers who thought it’d be a good idea to have a relationship with another member of the staff, it’s worked sometimes but it’s hell on the workplace. (that goes double if either of the pairing has any kind of authority)

    Friends are less simple, I’ve known many people who’ve had very successful relationships grow out of good friendships. You have to be careful but as long as everyone is being adult about it and a healthy level of communication is going on then friends can make excellent partners. That said I’ve sometimes seen people think things along the line of “He/She’s my best friends, that must mean that actually we’re *totally* compatible as partners!” ….. which is just stupid.

    Ex’s. Totally agree with Chesh. All depends on the Ex. If their an Ex for a damn good reason then steer well clear. If not, then as above, negotiate, communicate then make a decision.

    • missamaranth says:

      I completely agree about colleagues, Always a bad idea in my opinion! Heck, I haven’t even decided if I’m going to be out at work when I start my new job!

      “That said I’ve sometimes seen people think things along the line of “He/She’s my best friends, that must mean that actually we’re *totally* compatible as partners!” ….. which is just stupid.”

      ^ ^ Oh so true! I have a friend who is absolutely lovely, and we work really well as friends and even worked well as casual play-partners for a while. But the brief period where it looked like things might get more serious, it quickly became apparant we’d be massively, horribly incompatible as partners! (Glad I found that early on before I ruined a good friendship….)

      As with all things poly, it seems communication is the answer….!

  5. Well, usually I try to: “when in doubt, don’t!”:-)

    Like you say, communication is essential. I also find it useful to let some decisions concerning my involvement with others, in the hands of my partner(s).
    In the case of a partner’s friend, ex or co-worker, I probably would ask what would they feel about it and follow their lead.
    I don’t see myself getting involved with two people who don´t like each other on, at least, a friendly base.
    Once again, like you say, there are so many variables that one must consider each situation individually.
    I find it easier, in case of co-workers, if both are poly, there are no issues of authority and if their previous backgrounds “after breakups” have minimal (or no) drama…
    I have a good friend (and we work together sometimes), with whom I once consider going beyond. But was afraid of losing her friendship, if something went wrong.
    Yet, watching her relationship with her ex boyfriend, I now believe we would be ok. Still, I prefer not to go that way.
    P.S. – I think your thoughts on the subject are quite organized😉

  6. Nile says:

    The question with a Best Friend is: am I confusing the affection and intimacy of close friendship with sexual attraction?

    Some people pursue sex for the company and the affection – and, sometimes, even for the friendship – and this group will have particular problems.

    However… That generalisation is probably a little bit true for all of us, completely true for a group of large-but-unknown size, and wrong in complicated ways for others in ways that might be difficult to describe to anyone outside the relationship. I suspect that those ‘complications’ are equally frustrating and delightful, but I doubt that many of them end amicably.

  7. I think that the lines of appropriateness depend entirely on how capable the folks involved are of being reasonable, mature adults if things go wrong.

    I’ve slept with work colleagues, with close friends, and with friends of metamours, and it hasn’t ever been a problem…but then, I prefer to choose partners who’ve demonstrated the ability to get along with other people even if they break up. Sleeping with friends doesn’t cause drama; sleeping with colleagues doesn’t cause drama; drama is caused when folks have unstated expectations or emotions that they don’t know how to manage, and so make poor choices or act out because of it. We can’t control how we feel, but we CAN control how we act!

  8. Nomad says:

    It’s always been a rule for me to avoid sleeping with colleagues (and students!). While things don’t always go wrong, there is a heightened risk that could affect not just this job, but the future path of my career. This field isn’t so big — people know each other! There hasn’t ever been anyone so utterly irresistible that they were worth that risk… especially when social venues are readily available.

    Somewhere along the line, this discussion grew to include “friends of metamours” as a category to be wary of. I’m really not sure how, as it isn’t in your original post. Colleagues of metamours is, which makes sense if the metamour in question is not out of the parrot cage at work. But friends of metamours? Not sure how that came into play.

    I do tend to avoid relationships with close friends of my partners and, similarly, would prefer not to see my partners involved with my best friends. When Alicia was coming onto Gyades quite heavily, I told him that it was his choice what to do… but acknowledged that I had significant concerns about potential fallout. In the end, it was certainly the right decision that he chose not to pursue that. Similarly, I was flirting quite a bit with A’s best friend at Brushwood a few years back. Nothing serious, though, because she is A’s best friend!

    • missamaranth says:

      Yeah, exactly. A very wise policy to have re. work and dating, I think! Incidentally, I think the reasons I’d never date a colleague are similar to the reasons I decided not to date anyone at uni, in some ways… because if there is drama and fallout, it’s all too close to home and you still (probably) have to see them all the time. Of course, in a professional environment it just gets 10 times more complicated.

      “Friends of metamours” isn’t a category I’d be particularly wary of, unless said metamour was really really against it for some reason. In general I agree with you about the “close friends of partners” thing though – which is why, waaaay back when A had a crush on E, I said “even if she were poly, no way.” Because that just would’ve been too weird for me, and I’d have been thrown in the middle of any drama that ensued.

      Excellent points as always, my Love. Thank you.

      I love you!

  9. I would probably avoid these situations, unless the relationship is pre-existing.
    What I mean is, I’ve had a partner help me get a job and so they became my coworker. No drama happened and it allowed for some income instead of none. If my partner finds a job and it’s the same company as a metamour, I don’t think I’d end it. I wouldn’t ask them to refuse a good opportunity for their career because things might maybe be awkward.
    Similarly, if you and your metamour are dating the same two people and one of them breaks up with your metamour… well you’re dating their ex, but it’s not like you’re gonna break up.
    And with best friend, a partner of yours could meet your metamour and become close friends, or they could even be friends already and you didn’t know until you introduce them (same can go for exes, really). I don’t think it would be very fair to break up an existing relationship for these rules, but I understand avoiding one.

    In short, it’s like with kids. I’m pro-choice before they’re born, but afterwards? Just deal with whatever life throws at you, the kids are here to stay.

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