Is it polyamorous and ethical to date two people without their knowledge?

It’s true that the relationships would probably change if you told the people about each other. And I’m not surprised you want to keep things the way they are, since you enjoy it. But do keep in mind that

(1) Your behavior is unethical by many people’s systems of ethics. What is your system of ethics based on? How do you justify your behavior in your system?

(2) At some point one or both of your girlfriends will probably find out, and the relationships will change anyway. But if they find out without your telling them, they may have a stronger sense of betrayal and that may make it worse for you and them.

I’m sure you feel that you care about them.


But to me, caring about someone is not just a feeling. It also means doing your best not to hurt the person.

In this case, you are setting your girlfriends up for a very big disappointment down the road, when they discover you’ve been hiding the existence of other relationships. I don’t think that’s very caring at all. I think it’s downright mean and nasty.

When you say you care about them, don’t you really mean that you enjoy being around them? But you aren’t really looking out for their long-term interests, or even your own. You’re only looking out for your short-term interests — you don’t want to have to change the relationships. You prefer to hide your head in the sand and wait until the situation blows up and the relationships change on their own, possibly more painfully.

You have two ethical choices, the way I see it:
1. End your relationship with one or both of them.
2. Tell them both you’re involved with someone else and you don’t intend to give up either relationship. Then work with them on whatever feelings might come up.

Most people who do polyamory believe that it is about having multiple relationships *openly and honestly*, not simply about having multiple relationships. Lots of people cheat.


Are primates naturally polyamorous?

Primates have a variety of sexual behavior patterns, but having one mate for life (monogamy) is one of the rarer patterns. Mating with more than one other, openly or secretly, is more common.


If you look at homo sapiens behavior, you see that a frequent behavior pattern is having one or more “official” mates (most often one), with the “official” cultural position that monogamy is appropriate, while a number of secret sexual and/or love affairs take place on the side (among both men and women). This is not polyamory. I’m not sure what to name it.

This pattern also occurs in various other primate species.

A great many other behavior patterns are also represented, including polyamory. I don’t think there is any one single “natural” behavior pattern for humans, or for males, or for females. Humans learn most of their behavior rather than acting from instinct.

How Do You Distinguish Different Kinds Of Relationships And Communicate Your Intentions?

Perhaps one way to explain your position to your partners is to say that you are, in a sense, your own primary partner. If I have no primary, then I automatically assign a higher value to my own needs/wants than to others’ (in a sense, I am my own primary).


If I decide that someone is no longer primary, I tend to state that very clearly.

So let’s say I have no ranked relationships. Each person gets a certain amount of my time and understands that I rank my needs/wants somewhat more important than zirs.

Now I decide that one of these people is my primary. What changes is that I rank this person’s needs/wants equal to mine. The rules about others would change if my primary and I agreed that they should change. Otherwise not. In reality what would probably change is that I might have somewhat less flexibility in scheduling time with my other partners.

Let’s say I have a primary and some other relationships. I decide I no longer want the person to be a primary. I tell the person I no longer consider zir a primary, and I go back to having no ranked relationships.

Again, the only change is that I no longer rank one person’s needs/wants equal to mine.

I tend to make the actual transition from one “label” to another rather decisively. If I want to make a transition, I tend to think about it a lot first, and I tend to hold off on behaving in ways that don’t fit the label, because I believe such behavior causes additional stress in the relationship.

If someone is repeatedly behaving “outside the label,” I will tend to say that I want to change the label until further evidence has been gathered. Let’s say I have a secondary partner who is not able to schedule regular get-togethers. I will tell zir “let’s call ourselves friends rather than secondary partners” because I have different expectations for friends and I won’t be upset at the mismatch.

How Do You Explain Your Interest In Polyamory To Someone Who’s Monogamous?

I’ve *never* been successful explaining poly using the parents/children analogy. Some poly folks seem to understand it, but others apparently don’t at all.


Marriage is a life partnership. Not all relationships are life partnerships. Does a Christian marriage allow one to have friends? If so, then I see no reason, using *that* argument, why a Christian marriage would not allow one to be poly — to love one’s friends, to have loving
non-marriage relationships with other people.

I’m not Christian, but I was raised as one, and I found myself thinking the other day about Jesus’ words “And the greatest of these is love” in a poly context. Poly has helped show me that underneath all the different names for love and the different ways it feels in different relationships, love is just love.

One of the thorniest arguments my partner and I had early on in our relationship concerned our different understandings of love. I urge you both to persist in sorting yours out, because when you can understand each other’s views of love, you have really gotten somewhere.

Bonus: How Do You Explain Polyamory To Someone Who’s Monogamous?

“You have more than one friend, right? You care about your friends, right?
Your friends all know that you have more than one friend, right? You
don’t have big trouble juggling several friends, right? You find time to
spend with each of them? OK, well, polyamory is like having several
friends that you love and have sex with.”

That’s a start, anyway. People can say “Well, *I* couldn’t do that with
lovers,” but at least they have an example from their own lives that they
can start from.

Is It Codependent If You Consider Another Person’s Wants/Needs Alongside Your Own?

“Codependency” implies mental illness to me. Do you really believe that people who choose to assign equal weight to another’s needs are ill?


I think that it is very important for parents to assign equal weight to their children’s needs, and I think it can be a legitimate choice to assign equal weight to other adults’ needs as long as it doe. I do not think it indicates mental illness.

One can assign equal weight to another person’s needs and still retain freedom of choice.

In the case of my primary partner, I make the decisions based on what I need/want, what zie needs/wants, and what our relationship needs/wants, weighing all those factors equally. In other relationships, my needs/wants get some extra priority points when I am weighing my choices.

Note that although I consider my partner’s needs/wants as equal to mine, I still assess the needs/wants and rank them. If I have a want I consider a high priority, and my partner has a want that seems to be a lower priority, my want gets priority. But it gets priority on its own merits, not just because it is mine.

What Do You Do If You’re Monogamous And Your Partner Is Pressuring You To Be Poly?

Pressure to be polyamorous, when making a transition, may not *really* come
from person A. It may come from person B, who feels one or more of:

–“I have to be poly too so I won’t be lonely”
–“I have to be poly too so I can understand this part of person A”

But person B may not realize where the feeling is coming from, and may
believe that person A is pressuring zir to be poly.

I suppose there are a few reasons why person A might want person B to be

–Person A might feel guilty for leaving person B alone.
–Person A might worry that unless person B is poly, zie is going to
demand more time/energy than A wants to give.
–Person A might believe that poly works best when all parties are poly.
–Person A might believe that poly only works when everybody is getting
something for zirself out of it.

These are not very well thought out reasons, but they are likely to occur
in the heat of the moment.

Is A Secondary Relationship Of Lesser Value Than A Primary Relationship?

I believe you implied that a secondary relationship had no spiritual aspects and was of lesser value than a primary relationship. I think secondary does not imply anything about the spiritual aspects of a relationship. I also think that secondary does not imply anything about the spiritual or emotional value of a relationship. It only implies something about how I will behave if the relationship conflicts with a primary relationship.


If your definition of “value” is behavior-based, then you might consider my secondary relationships to be of lesser value because I spend less time on them than on my primary relationship. However, if your definition of “value” is based in spiritual or emotional aspects, then my secondary relationships may be of equal or greater value than my primary relationship — they may teach me more things, or be more emotionally intense, or whatever else might be implied in a definition of spiritual or emotional value.



If you don’t think that secondary relationships are less important than primary relationships, how do you distinguish between your primary and your secondaries? Are there any ways that you treat your primary different from your secondaries? Or do you distinguish them simply ‘cos you’ve been with your primary for longer and live with zir?

I think that a primary relationship of many years’ duration that was de facto monogamous for most of those years can build a lot of solidity/strength through all the time spent solely with that partner. When you begin pursuing secondary relationships, they are  automatically secondary because there is so much history built up between you and your
primary partner.

However, a primary relationship of much shorter duration that has been actively polyamorous from the outset is in a more precarious position. There is not a lot of history built up; the partners don’t know a lot about each other’s tendencies and reactions to things. It’s therefore trickier to distinguish between the primary relationship and the secondary relationships.

Taking as a premise that in the latter kind of relationship, only actions count (because there’s little history), I think the only way to meaningfully define the latter kind of relationship as primary is to limit the amount of time/energy spent on other relationships, either by making guidelines, or by simply behaving that way automatically.

A lot of people squick at the concept of trying to rank importance, because they think if they define one relationship as less important than another, they are actually defining one person as less important than another, and that goes against their democratic principles.

But I’m talking about actions. If you had to move in order to pursue your career, would you give your primary partner more of a say than you would give your secondary partners? If so your primary partner is, in a sense, more important to you.