The first time I dated someone who eventually said he didn't practice monogamy, it didn't seem like such a terrible idea. He wasn't someone I saw as a permanent fixture and I had been dating multiple people (none seriously, and few with any significant physical intimacy); he made a pretty solid case for the difference between emotional and physical intimacy, jealousy as an aphrodisiac and for his ability to be cognizant of everyone's feelings.
That cognizance lasted for just over a month, when he called me up from another woman's bed, excited to brag that he'd had his first weekend of fucking a different person each night. He didn't understand how that wasn't in keeping with the deal we had to be kind about disclosure; I explained that bragging by phone from another women's bed wasn't exactly respectful to any of us. It probably won't surprise too many people, then, that the first time I slept with someone else and told him in a respectful way that his comfort with non-monogamy got somewhat more uncomfortable for him.
What didn't seem like a problem at the time, but does after more experience, was that the pronouncement of his commitment to non-monogamy came not on the first date, or just before we slept together, but rather somewhat into the relationship. It turns out that he—like many people I've known or have dated—didn't seek to date other people also seeking non-monogamy or polyamory: He wanted to be in a non-monogamous relationship with whomever, and felt that he could convince women that otherwise preferred monogamy to go along with it. And, of course, he was rather more comfortable with someone who didn't act on her ability to act on the agreement: At the end of the day, whether it was me, the other woman he was dating at the time, or the very inexperienced 19-year-old he added to the rotation, he wanted one of us there when he was wanted one of us there and, preferably, waiting when he didn't.
That, of course, is not particularly fair to any party—and it demonstrated that his interest in non-monogamy was pretty one-sided. Whether you're into monogamy or consider yourself polyamorous, it might be easier to meet people outside of the scene and start a relationship without the disclosure that you are, but it gets hard to maintain a relationship. Like with many things sexually, compatibility is key: if one person is into BDSM, getting involved with someone very vanilla might be emotionally stimulating, but it can be hard to replace a need to be flogged with the occasional fanny-slap. Getting involved in a non-monogamous or polyamorous relationship with someone who is otherwise exceedingly monogamous can often lead to hurt feelings, missed signals and a lack of healthy communication that's necessary for almost every relationship.
And the only thing more difficult than sussing out whether someone whose experiences have been exclusively monogamous is honestly interested or willing to try out a different mode of exclusivity is doing so after they already like you and want to keep the relationship going. At that point, a lot of people are willing to try something outside of their comfort zone, whether or not they really believe that they can get comfortable with it, in the hopes that your interest or feelings will lead you to sacrifice your preferences later they way they are willing to do so now.
And, great: sometimes that works. And sometimes people get comfortable with things they thought they wouldn't be, or a polyamorous person is willing to sacrifice their relationship with others to focus on one. But when it doesn't, it sucks for almost everyone involved—and often, all that was necessary to start was an honest exploration of what each person wanted and expected, and communication as those things changed. Too often, people worry that if they expose the truth about themselves, the other person won't like them or understand... So they hold the truth back until they're convinced the other person likes them enough that the reality of whatever they were convinced was unlikeable will pass by unnoticed.
But, you know, if someone isn't interested in a polyamorous relationship and being polyamorous is important to you, it's not an issue that will magically disappear in the shadow of your love. If you tell someone up front, you might lose a crush over it, but that's less crushing than losing a relationship; and the fairest thing to do is to let someone decide for themselves if they like you as you really are, rather than the person you're pretending to be. And maybe you'll be surprised.
[Image via Anomalily on Flickr, Creative Commons licensed]