I wasn’t entirely sure how to approach the topic I wanted to cover in this post. However, the wonderful Jase Lindgren gave me the perfect point of departure: could I be wrong about the things I think I want?
It took me a surprisingly long time to answer that question.
Early on, I felt a pervasive sense of dread about opening up my relationship. Even though I was behind the idea intellectually, that didn’t translate into emotional understanding. My partner was thoroughly appreciative of my nervousness, so we agreed to date only each other for the first few months. We wanted to give ourselves time to establish a solid foundation and deepen trust before we took steps outside the relationship.
Even with that grace period, there was a lingering part of me that felt like I was at a fundamental disadvantage when it came to dating other people. And I knew precisely where my apprehension came from: not only was I male, I was male and already in a relationship.
In a weird way, I felt competitive with my partner. Since dating other people had never been on the table before, I didn’t know how to approach it.
It was an endeavor that, by definition, we pursued independently of each other. So it often felt like my partner and I weren’t on the same team. This feeling was entirely one-sided on my part, since I was psyching myself out in the face of uncharted territory. She never pressured me or gave me ultimatums; she assured me that we would move forward at my speed. Regardless, we’re all familiar with the excited nervousness that accompanies any budding relationship, monogamous or not. So it was easy to get swept up and carried away.
The story I made up in my head was that I was going to have to constantly compete for the affection of my partner. Just like a heavyweight champ, I would fight challenger after challenger to defend my title. My partner was going to be flooded with male partners who were more than comfortable with casual sex, while I wandered alone in the desert of frustrated relative celibacy. Sure, it was dramatic interpretation of reality. But it seemed to be a universal issue in the poly and non-monogamy forums I had begun frequenting.
Despite this perceived handicap, I started testing the waters.
At first, online dating was disheartening. One of our agreements was that we were fully transparent about our relationship status with anyone we were interested in dating. While I was fully behind this from an ethical standpoint, I couldn’t help but imagine how much fudging the details a bit would help facilitate the process. Don’t worry, I didn’t end up lying to anyone.
However, as I had previously worried, the fact that I was already partnered turned the majority of women off right away. Even women who had no interest in a relationship otherwise found themselves fundamentally uncomfortable with my situation.
Now, this was largely my doing. I hadn’t learned how to effectively communicate my relationship status to women. I was still approaching these potential dates with some residual uncertainty. The fear of women scoffing at the idea of dating someone who was already “taken” led me to approach every situation with a defeatist attitude. It was hard to feel confident with that outlook. And as at least one dating column has corroborated, confidence is kind of important when you’re trying to sell someone on going out with you.
Thankfully, in times of frustration and defeat, there was a fail-safe. All I had to do was remind myself why I gave non-monogamy a shot in the first place: because it fit with my values, and because it fundamentally made sense to me. When I can wrap my head around an idea, it’s easy for me to stop taking the hard parts personally and think objectively. Don’t forget: pain-in-the-ass skeptic here.
Despite all the ways pursuing non-traditional relationships forces one to shrug off social expectations, conditioning is a powerful thing. In this context, my conditioning was replaying some of the old classics:
-Men are always the pursuers, and women want to be pursued
-Men only want sex from women, and women only want commitment from men
-Men should be celebrated for having sex, and women should be punished for it
These aren’t beliefs one has to actively subscribe to. Although if you do, chances are you’ve stumbled onto the wrong blog by mistake. That, or you’re consciously trying to broaden your horizons. In which case, good on you! Please, carry on.
While these statements aren’t a fair representation of gender dynamics across the board, they’ve certainly weaseled their way into our collective subconscious. Even with the awareness that shedding the limiting beliefs of our predecessors is a worthwhile undertaking, those beliefs still leave their footprints everywhere.
For one thing, changing a problematic thought pattern takes time. More importantly, it’s tricky to change an idea when it still seems to work on some level. I should reiterate that I’m not endorsing these ideas. But that doesn’t mean they are completely unmoored from reality. At best, they are a clunky oversimplification of the many variables that go into socializing each gender in the context of sex and relationships.
But as anyone who has ever simultaneously resented yet thoroughly fallen into a trope well knows, it is colossally frustrating.
Although in a strange way, it can also be liberating. As I’ve mentioned before, there’s a certain tranquility that comes from walking right up to an uncomfortable idea and embracing it. The ugly idea in this case was that my value was diminished because my partner would have an easier time finding dates. Once I threw that sucker out on the table, I could just start tearing it apart.
-Why was dating success the most important metric?
-What made me buy into this value assessment in the first place?
-How many partners would it take for me to be happy?
Answering these questions honestly brought me to two conclusions. The first of which was that my ego is full of shit and is not to be trusted. And second, I was assuming way too much about my partner’s experience.
This is a common miscalculation among people who value equality: I conflated equality with sameness. It’s generally a good idea to recognize that people operate more or less the same way we do. However, it’s a fallacy to assume we experience similar events the exact same way. In the context of my partner and me in the dating pool, I was idealizing a small fraction of her overall experience.
I was focusing entirely on the perceived advantage she had, while ignoring the dismal mountain of bullshit that women have to put up with from men online. Sure, going on Tinder for twenty minutes and coming away with a dozen matches must be nice. But is that alone worth the shameful amount of unsolicited lewd photos, insults, or threats? Of course not.
Since my life has never been threatened (even by the most disgruntled of matches), it was easy to ignore that reality. On top of that, there was another massive blind spot. A man’s willingness to swipe right on a woman has precisely zero bearing on his communication skills, his respect for her autonomy, or his sexual prowess. I may not have a degree in gender studies, but I’ve talked to enough disillusioned women to know these things really matter.
So why was I letting this imbalance get to me?
Here’s where my dumb ego comes in. It assumed that having more matches, more dates, and more sex was always better. It wasn’t until I took a more objective look that I realized the things I thought were working against me in the dating world were actually providing the perfect filter.
As it turns out, the fact that I was in an open relationship ended up being a great way to meet open-minded, non-judgmental women. Sure, a few women who would have interested me as a single man probably got scared away, but who cares?
I want to meet women who are interested in dating me as I am, and not some alternate version. I want to meet women who have more pressing concerns than how much hair I have, or if my stomach jiggles a little when I brush my teeth. Sure, it took a little patience and some minor tweaks to my own values. But those women I thought I couldn’t find had been out there all along.
It’s all too easy to take things too personally. And feeling like we’re falling short has a way of making us egocentric and self-pitying in a way that’s staggeringly counterproductive.
So the next time you find yourself walking this all too familiar path, take a second to step back and ask:
What else do I have going for me?
Chances are, it’s more than you think.
Walker Davis is still figuring out what the hell he's doing with his life, but he loves writing, feminism, secularism, extended metaphors, empathy, finding the balance, and cheese.