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To Date Or Not To Date, That Is The Question: The “No Dating Friends” Rule in Polyamory

Photo by roya ann miller on Unsplash

The topic of dating friends has come up quite a bit for me recently. In fact, it surfaced multiple times just in the last week in conversations with friends and people close to me. And every time, it felt very different and swayed my opinion in a new direction.

The "no dating friends" rule pertains to all kinds of relationships – monogamous, poly, or none. Often single people adopt this rule as they enter the dating world because they are afraid to lose people that are dear to them if the nature of the relationship changes for the worse. It usually means that the person, couple, or polecule (the official term for a poly network) decides not to date each others’ friends. There is a great discussion on Reddit about this topic with a vast range of opinions, and I found a post on Medium, where the author has a similar view as I do.

To me, the essence of polyamory is the freedom to explore the depth of any relationship – with a friend or a stranger, romantic or platonic – in an ethical way, sans unnecessary societal limitations. This freedom to explore is very important to me and makes every relationship extra exciting. But as I came to realize, this freedom to explore and stay open requires some effort and emotional work in more ways than one.

One night my husband and I were talking about his dating life. He has been seeing the same person for about a year and we had a highly hypothetical conversation about who else he could possibly date. We've talked about which of each other's friends we found attractive many times over the years – even before we decided to open up. I've never had any issues with even the hypothetical thought of him dating any of my friends; honestly, the thought of two people I care about caring about each other on a deeper level, gives me the warm fuzzies. He, on the other hand, is often worried that dating people within our social circle would "make things weird", especially between him and their spouses. I see his point, but I also think all of this weirdness is could be remedied with an honest conversation.

Another night I went out with a friend of mine. We toyed with the idea of possibly taking our relationship to the next level but didn't because of the fear that this change might damage our wonderful friendship. This fear is really just the unwillingness to let go of the current safe and comfortable relationships that we have. But beautiful things happen when people let go of their fears, so who knows what's in store for us once we do.

Later that week I went out with my other partner and we had a somewhat similar conversation on this topic. Instead of feeling warm and fuzzy, or scared of drama, I had a very different reaction – I broke down in tears because of the unexpected, painful feelings that bubbled up out of nowhere. My reaction caught me by surprise, to say the least, and I still can’t pinpoint exactly what caused this pain.

Accepting the fact that sometimes I don't feel okay about dating my friends or my partners dating my friends was a big step for me. But there is an even deeper learning opportunity here, to truly become at peace with anyone dating anyone. The discomfort and pain forced an awareness of the repressed emotions I’d been carrying around. This experience has given me an opportunity to really examine where those feelings come from and to accept and let go of them little by little.

I think the true root of my reactions lies in some insecurities I am still harboring. The betrayal by my best friend in middle school was a very traumatic experience for me. The challenges I had with my parents’ emotional and physical availability when I was little still affects me to this day. The shadows of all of those long-forgotten childhood stings came into light after all of these conversations. And I feel very grateful for that. I definitely need to work through whatever is still hidden in dark corners to accept myself completely. I welcome these feelings and look forward to dislodging the emotional blocks that grip me.

All of this brings me to the theory that people use the “no friends” rule because they are afraid of losing something wonderful they already have. They’re afraid of change, afraid of the discomfort, afraid of being betrayed. I was triggered because I still don't trust myself to be able to handle the intensity of my feelings and because of being afraid of losing the people that I value so much. Yes, the change in the relationship dynamics might make me uncomfortable, but I feel that letting go of my attachement to how things are is the biggest lesson I can learn from any discomfort that arises. Yes, the uncertainty is scary but it is also beautiful and I am going to keep working through my issues to eventually fully accept everything that life has in store for me.

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Polyamory (Greek πολύ poly, "many, several", Latin amor, "love") is the practice of, or desire for, intimate relationships with more than one partner, with the consent of all partners involved.

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