It’s difficult to know how much to share about what goes on (sexually and otherwise) with one of your partners with another. It’s like titrating the truth, just like you would medicine in a hospital — a truth drip.
On the surface, it seems so easy. But you gotta be careful! You can overdose by saying too much or by saying too little. You have to get your dosages right. And just like in medicine, it can take some doing to find just the right therapeutic dose for each patient.
If you’re too open, you risk “rubbing it in.” This is especially true if your partner struggles with feelings of jealousy and being left out. On the other hand, some partners can actually feel more included by knowing more about your other relationships.
Plus, timing is everything.
Post-Date Check-Ins, Two Examples
One thing that has always worked for me has been post-date check-ins, especially when a partner is seeing someone new. For these, I like very open-ended questioning. “Did you have a good time?” was the question Seth and I always asked each other to open the check-in. And I’ve carried that into my conversations with Skyspook.
Here are two very standard exchanges I might have with Seth and Skyspook about the same date:
Me: Hey, you’re home! Did you have a good time?
Seth: Yeah. It was pretty good. She has great tits.
Me: Oh, for sure.
Seth: Made out for a while. Didn’t go any further. Although her hand was doing all kinds of interesting things. Half thought she was going to jerk me off. But she didn’t.
Me: It was fun though?
Me: Hey, you’re home! Did you have a good time?
Skyspook: Yep. We watched a movie. Ate dinner. Made out a little.
Me: Yay! Did you like it?
Skyspook: Yeah, it was good.
Both of these exchanges are within my “acceptable dosage range,” especially given Seth’s and Skyspook’s personalities.
Skyspook doesn’t share quite as many sexual details as Seth did, but it works out because I trust Skyspook’s risk assessment (and global judgement) more than I did Seth’s, which is how care-based carte blanche even works with Skyspook; I certainly couldn’t have done it with Seth.
I tend to be fine hearing a lot of details. Even if I do experience a stray twinge of discomfort, in the long term it works out better for me. I get a lot of compersion (see also this). And my imagination (y’know, Martin) is great at making up things that are much scarier than what’s actually going on.
I’ve also noticed that Seth and Skyspook varied as far as their timing of disclosure. Seth would share once, all up front, in a single dose during a post-date check-in. Where Skyspook dispenses it in smaller doses once it becomes relevant. Seth’s was more a series of truth injections, Skyspook more of a classic truth drip.
Both approaches have their advantages.
The Perils of Oversharing
At the same time, some privacy can be very important to building intimacy. Relationships often contain in-jokes, shared secrets. And maybe your other partner wouldn’t like their metamour knowing every last thing that goes on.
Not only that, but real damage can be done to relationship dynamics if information falls into the wrong hands.
Of all the people I’ve dated as a poly person, Rob was arguably the one who would provide me the most details during a check-in. Generally, this was a good thing. Rob was a really gifted storyteller. And I’d often feel like I had gone on his dates with him. Or at least that I’d watched a short film of one.
Rob would just say shit, and this was generally great for me.
However, Rob’s radical transparency absolutely bit me in the ass one time.
He was going through a lot of personal stress and had a complete meltdown (as can happen to the best of us, given the right confluence of factors, y’know, a clusterfuck). And during this, he became extremely apologetic.
“I’m sorry, Page. I’m such a fucking mess. You deserve better.” He was ashamed that he was struggling with his emotional health, that he was on antidepressants.
I was struck by this. It reminded me of myself. I realized then that Rob had only seen me at my best. To him, I was someone who had all my shit together. And had always been that way.
I laughed. Reassured Rob by telling him about some of the worst things that ever happened to me (e.g., this and this). And in some ways, it was a very good call. He was instantly reassured to know that I was a human, too, with my own damage.
But then — oh, then… he told his wife Michelle without even asking if it would be okay.
And even that could have been fine once I took a step back and maybe cooled my jets a bit. But over the ensuing weeks and months, she used a trauma that had occurred nearly a decade before as grounds to assert that I was “fragile.” To invalidate me.
And Michelle used my past experiences as ammo for arguing for more rules and regulations that seemed to stem more from her own insecurities, all the while saying they were based on concerns about my present mental health — which was pretty good by the way. I worked full time. Took care of myself fine. There was a reason that Rob didn’t realize I had such a history until I told him.
On the other hand, Michelle’s reaction? Spoke volumes to me about her that might have taken years to find out in another way. I knew quickly that she was a person desperate for control and that she was willing to put others down in order to achieve it. I continued in that relationship with Rob with my eyes wide open, knowing that she’d always be difficult to handle as a metamour (see here and here).
Titrate Your Truth Drip for Homeostasis
Generally speaking, I’m a fan of people knowing more, provided you don’t use it as an excuse to be a stage 5 blurter.
Sure, it’s important to be kind and take reasonable measures to help someone become more comfortable with feelings of discomfort that might stem from having other lovers in the picture.
Don’t be like Rob. Seriously. The guy once interrupted himself mid-sentence in the middle of a restaurant to loudly tell his wife and everyone sitting near us that he’d gone down on me in the shower and enjoyed it.
But in general, I’m a big fan of people I can just tell things to. People I can be open with. And if I have to tiptoe around too much, essentially pretend I’m monogamous, that’s no good either. That’s probably why Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell (or even parallel poly) isn’t something I could see working for me, especially not with a serious long-term primary-esque situation.
Tact is good. But I want people to be generally comfortable with the fact that the non-monogamy game is afoot.
Your best truth drip may very well be different depending on who all you have in your life.
Find a place to start. Try it. Watch what happens. Move one variable at a time. Slowly. Observe. Adjust. Observe. Adjust.
The scientific method is your friend.