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FROM THE FUCKBUCKET: “my partner and I have a Don’t-Ask-Don’t-Tell agreement, and it’s starting to feel a little weird”

we're on "don't ask don't tell" for our sorta open relationship. I want to be more open about my feelings toward others, but he doesn't, even after suggesting it. I don't mind necessarily, but it's starting to feel a bit secretive.

This is not a question, it’s just a scribbled-down statement about how things are (or were) for someone in the Smut Slam audience, but I felt like I wanted to address it anyway, because there is a question in there: "what should I do?"

If I’m recalling correctly, there were a lot of polyamorous people in the audience that night and when I read this part, a murmur rippled through the crowd. The whole room expressed a sort of “yup, been there” and then sighed one collective sigh.

Many of us have been there. Oh my lord. DADT as a policy statement for open relationships is super common, especially for folks new to open relationships who think it’s some sort of training-wheel approach, just to get started. I know I did, with both the first and second partners I tried an actual opening-up with. I had asked about it, and my partners reluctantly agreed to it, but on terms: “I don’t want to know anything about it.”

And the thing is, that works, on a purely theoretical level, in a world where all you wanna do is scratch that itch and get laid, in and out and back to your “real life” and your “real partner.” Don’t Ask Don’t Tell works there, in that world where all you want are discrete bits of time with people who aren’t asking anything from you except some time with your particular and very discreet bits. DADT works fine, in an ongoing way, when you have a perfectly compartmentalized life and psyche.

In reality, very very few people have that kind of life and/or psyche. You may say you can do it, because good lord, that person is hot and you really wanna scratch that itch! But the reality is, life bleeds out all over everything. You develop feelings for that person who was supposed to just be a no-strings-attached fuck. Or at least you like them—hopefully—so you wind up watching a movie with them that you really love and then you go back to your primary partner and say, hey, I want to show you this movie, and they love it too and they say, “Wow, that was amazing! Where did you find out about this movie?” and you’re suddenly like, eep. Can I say?

What do you do if that happens with a sex move?

No couple magically match up their free time without discussion, sometimes a lot of discussion, depending on the couple and their already existing schedules. Carving out time for other people, without mentioning those other people, is really difficult.

And yeah, those feelings. They do happen, and if you’ve already set down a DADT policy about such basic things as “no mentioning dates with other people” and “I don’t want to know their names,” you’re suddenly going to be in an even more untenable position when the feelings come up.

This is not to say that your boyfriend doesn't have the right to say, "I don't want to hear about what you and your date did in bed last night" or "I'd rather not be the sounding board for any relationship problems you're having with your other partners." Those are pretty common boundaries; hopefully the two of you can hash those out together. But it sounds like the embargo is laid down pretty hard and pretty low, so... yeah. How much of your life/time/attention/heart is wrapped up in these other relationships, and how important is it that you can be open about that?

This person isn’t asking for advice, but for any readers who may be in the same situation, I encourage you to use the Sheelzebub principle, named after a Captain Awkward reader who had some sage advice for anyone wondering what to do in a challenging relationship situation:

Can I live with this for another month? Another year? Another five years? Ten years? The rest of my life? How long?

Maybe you’d be okay with it. What about your partners in DADT-ness? That might feel a bit shitty for them too. You’re feeling a little bit constrained now. How will that feel after five years of it? I can’t answer that question for you, but as someone who tried “don’t ask don’t tell” once, I can tell you I would never go back.

*****

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