Dating is complicated when you already have multiple partners. People have this vision of poly people as having a free-wheeling lifestyle where they date anybody they choose and pick up new partners at the drop of a hat. I'm sure some poly people do that, but it seems to be rare. My experience is that dating people in stable poly relationships is more like dating someone in a traditional Greek or Italian family — all the extended family has to meet you and gets a say in whether the relationship is a good idea.
I've been interested in getting a girlfriend, and recently I've found a smart and cute woman I connect with. Alex, Hanne, Julian, and I have been in a largely polyfidelitous relationship (with the exception of a little making out and a one time blowjob) for the past two years. So how do we navigate the rocky waters of one of us potentially acquiring another partner?
Sexual health is obviously a big issue. It's always a big issue for me, but it takes on even bigger significance when you have more partners. If I have sex with someone who turns out to be infected with a sexually transmitted infection, I am no longer the only person affected. Three other people may have to change their sexual behavior or manage the potential of infection. The question is no longer “What risk am I willing to take that I might be infected with something?” but instead “What risk am I willing to take that I might get infected, and that I might put my partners and their partner at risk of infection?” That makes me more conservative than I might be otherwise. It also means that communication and honesty about sexual behavior is important. I will communicate with Alex and Julian if I do anything that has a level of risk, and I would expect them to share that with Hanne if I haven't already. In some cases, pregnancy would be a risk that would have to be evaluated – an accidental pregnancy could impact my existing relationship in potentially negative ways. Obviously, the possibility of getting a girlfriend doesn't hold that risk.
A much trickier issue is talking to existing partners about their concerns and feelings around this subject. Even when your partner already has another long-term partner, the possibility of them acquiring yet another lover can be very destabilizing. Will it mean I get less of their time? Do I risk losing a special role in my partner's life? What if they get swept up in New Relationship Energy (NRE) and forget about me? What if they just like the new person better or think they are sexier, funnier, or smarter? Let's face it, bringing a new partner into a relationship always has the potential to unbalance things in unpredictable ways. If things are going well, is it worth it to risk of rocking the boat to bring in a new partner?
Then there are more practical questions to answer about how the relationship would work if it does happen: Do any or all of your current partners get a right to veto a new potential partner? Does the new candidate have to meet your existing partners? What type of sexual safety decisions will satisfy all existing partners? How much time do you have available for a new partner?
Right now, here's the strategy I'm using: I've talked to both of my existing partners about the possibility of getting a girlfriend. They have both said I should do that if I want to. As I've found people I might be interested in, I've discussed the person with them and received their input. My existing partners liking and being comfortable with someone I might date is very important to me. My boyfriend expressed some concern about another partner reducing the time I have available for him, and that's an issue I will try to be very aware of. We've talked about sexual protection expectations a little and probably need to have another conversation about that if it gets to that point. Other than that, I'm going to play it by ear as I move forward and hope I don't hit any unforeseen landmines.
I have to admit, the logistics are daunting. The more people you have in your existing relationship network, the less appealing it can be to consider adding another due solely to the increased emotional and practical complications.