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Can You Be “Poly” and Date a Cheater?

By Mystic Life

Most polyamorous people are drawn to this lovestyle because of their distaste for cheating. But what about if you're dating someone who is cheating on their partner? Perhaps you don't even know their partner and are therefore not required to lie to (or withhold from) your lover's lover. You might then be able to feel as though you're an honest person with no inner-conflict because, after all, you're not deceiving anyone.

This issue came to the forefront for me recently while getting to know a woman through a dating site. We were still in the emailing phase of courting when I asked if she was involved with anyone else. She had listed herself as “Single” and made no mention of any other lovers, but my intuition said it would be a good question to ask. I had already begun feeling some ambivalence because I was sensing her style of carrying a conversation wasn't very engaging, which is an ability that I find necessary to feel invested. Nevertheless, I was telling myself that some people take awhile to “warm up” (whereas I tend to feel very curious and open quite quickly).

I quickly received her reply about who else she was dating, and discovered that one of the two men had a wife who didn't know about her. She went on to rationalize that she wouldn't want him to leave his wife for her, she liked things the way they were, they started their affair before she was poly, and that he and his wife hadn't had sex for a long time. What made her choice to date a cheater somewhat unexpected was that she was one of those polys who states something to the effect of “No Poly Beginners!” in their profile. I falsely assumed this implied a strong commitment to honest non-monogamy.

Since I had already been noticing a certain degree of ambivalence about our connection, I experienced some relief as I felt that her choice to date a cheater went against my values. But at the same time, I felt some disappointment that this new connection wasn't going to go anywhere. After allowing my disillusionment to set in, I let her know that dating a cheater was a deal breaker for me due to my thoughts on interconnectedness.

During my own poly journey, I had considered myself polyamorous for several years before I decided to no longer date anyone who was deceiving her partner. Around 7 years ago, a “partnered friend” of mine came to visit, and we ended up kissing while naked in my jacuzzi. I'd had a crush on her for many years, and was very excited about hooking up at the time. However, this turned out to be the last such experience I would choose. I did some honest reflecting on the situation, and came to realize that even though I didn't know her boyfriend I was connected to him on the level of spirit. Some time later she asked if I wanted to join her and her partner to hang out on his boat. I just didn't feel comfortable with meeting him as long as her and I fooling around would be kept a secret. In my pre-poly days, when I was still quite armored, I could do such things with no problem. Now that I'm very sensitive to energy, the dynamic of a “fun day of boating” with underlying secrets would be too uncomfortable.

I have found several times in my life that when someone tells me that they are cheating on someone, it creates a wedge between myself and the deceived. I don't feel it is my place to reveal the deception (though in some cases I might if my “allegiance” was to the person being cheated upon) and as long as I know something the deceived doesn't know, I will not feel as close to that person because there is something important going on in their life that I can not share. This tends to happen more with people I know who consider themselves monogamous. However, I'm sure the aforementioned woman I was recently getting to know is far from the only person who considers herself polyamorous while dating someone who is clearly not.

There have been many semantic arguments over the years about the definition of polyamory. The way I look at it, anyone who loves more than one person could technically use poly to describe themselves. There is a lot of “wiggle room” after you break down the root words in polyamory. However, it seems clear to me that the majority of people who consider themselves polyamorous believe that loving honestly is indeed a necessary component of the poly lovestyle.

I believe that ultimately if we are to advance the poly movement, we must be willing to encourage others who are cheating to go beyond their comfort level. I believe that everyone has a right to make clear decisions about their relationships, and that deception denies someone the ability to make an informed choice. Whenever you cheat on someone you are covertly controlling their behavior. You are making the decision “for them” that they will continue to be your partner instead of letting them make a choice given the knowledge of your sexual relationship with someone else.

As polyamorous individuals I feel that we will help the evolution and consciousness of those we care about by encouraging them to tell the truth to their partner(s). If we are unwilling to let go of a relationship with someone who is cheating, we must question whether enabling behavior that goes against our personal ethics is worth whatever we are experiencing with that person. Personally, there are no longer any situations in which I would want to date someone who lies for romance, who is covert about their sexual behavior. I believe that when we set a clear boundary with those who lie, we open up the possibility that we will be a catalyst for them to grow, and to risk possibly losing a relationship in exchange for integrity.

Controlling people by withholding aspects of your sexual behavior is an old paradigm fear-based approach to loving. I have come to believe that saying “no thanks” to those who lie is an empowering way to wave your poly flag high and proud. It's certainly not always an easy thing to do, but ultimately helps everyone involved to move in the direction of a more conscious and heart-centered experience of love.


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