How to Follow Your Gut Ethically

A circular yellow sign that says "neighbourhood watch" on it. In the middle of the sign is an image of 4 people
Image by Mark Morgan / CC BY

Every so often, an unpleasant cycle repeats. Someone new hits my local kink and/or poly circles, someone that I’ll meet and instantly have a bad feeling about.

Exactly why I’ll get that hinky feeling will change each time. Maybe this new person is a little too insistent and seems prone to pushing past people’s non-sexual boundaries. For example, they’ll insist several times that you need to watch a movie on their phone, ignore your no’s, and then queue up the movie anyway, thrusting the phone in your face. Everyone else who witnessed it will be quicker to forgive, but to you it’ll seem all wrong. And troubling.

Or maybe they’ll call to ask to speak to your roommate and when you tell them your roommate isn’t home, invite themselves over and hang up before you have a chance to tell them no, you have things to do, now isn’t really the time for company. And they mysteriously don’t answer phone calls or texts when you try to rectify the situation. Materializing on your front doorstep, telling you that they’re fine with waiting until your roommate gets home. Except could you keep them company?

Both of those are true stories by the way.

And in both instances, the person in question was deeply enmeshed in my friends group in the blink of an eye. Multiple friends were dating them before I knew it, and we were somehow even linked up in a polyamorous web. Metamours and/or telemours in a few different ways.

The majority of everyone else surrounding me seemed quite gaa gaa and taken, while I was deeply suspicious of them and their motives.

Lovely.

Given time, things unfolded in a terrible fashion. Everyone decided that this person was bad news — but only after they’d wreaked a bit of havoc across our friends circle.

And there were only a small handful of us who had been concerned early on who looked at each other and said, “We knew it.”

People Usually Don’t Listen to Warnings

A few others had tried to warn people. But their concerns were waved away. “Oh you’re making too much of that.” “You don’t know them like I do.”

And in cases where this person was a metamour (a partner’s other partner), “Are you sure this isn’t just some kind of jealousy issue rearing its head?”

Unfortunately, people often do not listen to early warnings about others. They typically prefer to give new people the benefit of the doubt, particularly if they’re entertained by them or attracted to them, and to form their own impressions rather than heeding the concerns of others.

I personally have a few people who value my impressions of new people — and trust my motives for delivering them — implicitly. In the past, I’ve had occasions where these people will literally seek me out and ask me what I think of someone. And whatever I say, they’ll accept and actually seem to take into account.

But to the rest of the world, I’m just like anyone else. Another random opinion. About as much help as a cash receipt for a powdered donut blowing away in the wind.

It Can Be Tricky Knowing Whether the Most Ethical Path Is to Alert Others or to Keep Your Mouth Shut

It can be tricky when you get that hinky feeling about someone to know what to do. Whether to sound the alarm or keep your mouth shut.

There’s a complicated ethical calculus here — you don’t want to murder someone’s reputation based on a gut feel. Or to murder your own reputation by being a negative Nancy and have no one heed your advice anyway. (Especially because no one is right all of the time in their hunches.)

But at the same time, it can feel unethical (and like a betrayal of loyalties) to just sit there and watch an unsavory person ravage your friends group.

It’s not easy, this balance.

I don’t think there’s any one way of objectively doing this correctly. But in today’s article, I’ll share what’s worked for me over the years.

If Someone Comes to Me with a Voiced Suspicion of Their Own That I Agree With, I’ll Do That

This is pretty straightforward. If someone approaches me with a suspicion about someone that I also share, I’ll let them know that I agree.

Even if the news is pretty harsh. I’ll come out and say, “Yeah, so I have concerns there, too” and share whatever it is I’m basing it on.

If I don’t know and it’s just a spidey sense thing, I’ll come clean about that.

If I’m basing it on some low-stakes non-sexual interaction I had with them, I’ll share it.

If it’s something very serious that I personally witnessed, I’ll let them know.

If it’s based on what someone else told me, I’ll be honest about that, that it’s not firsthand. I won’t violate any confidences to do so — if the person doesn’t want to be linked with the info, I’ll more indicate how much I trust the source in question, as opposed to saying who it is exactly. And when in doubt, I’ll just refuse to name the source.

If it’s a mix of multiple things I’m basing it on, I’ll let that be known and share each one of them.

If Someone Asks My Opinion, I Tell Them

This guideline is pretty straightforward. If someone asks my opinion, I will tell them my honest take.

It’s very much the same as above. I’ll specify why I feel that way, keeping any confidences that I may have to in order to do that (for example, if someone else has voiced a suspicion in addition to my own — or multiple someones, as can sometimes happen). If for some reason, I can’t name the other source or sources, it’ll likely make the basis of my concerns much weaker to the person I’m talking to. But that’s okay. I’ve at least told them. What they do with that information isn’t entirely up to me.

I’m especially forthright if we are close. If we are less close, I might be a little gentler/more vague. But I’ll still let my honest impressions be known.

And regardless of how close I am to the person asking my opinion, if at this point they express any significant opposition/doubt about my concerns, I won’t push. I’ll just drop it.

They asked. I gave my take. The end.

It’s not my job to convince them. But I was honest with them. And if they want to ignore that, that’s their right.

I’m Unlikely to Preemptively Sound Any Public Alarm Bells Without Solid Proof

Unless I know of something quite concerning/dangerous that I either have witnessed firsthand or have been told by an extremely reputable source (I know a lot of people, but I can count the people in my life that I consider that level of reputable using the fingers of one hand), I’m not going to become the town crier.

I’m not that person who tells everyone that someone new is bad news based on a hunch or a troubling low-stakes interpersonal situation. Or based on secondhand info, especially from a dubious or untested source.

I am not a one-woman neighborhood watch. I just am not. And while hunches I’ve had in the past have frequently turned out to be right, no one is 100% accurate, not even me.

I Will Alert Someone Close to Me If Have Something Solid to Go On

That said, there are cases in which I’ve sometimes been preemptive in the past.

Regardless of how close I am to someone else, I’ll basically never preemptively tell them I have a bad feeling about someone else unless they ask or express suspicions first if my own suspicions are just based on a hunch or a gut feel.

But if I’m very close to someone else, and I have something solid to base my concerns on, that’s when I’ll go preemptively to someone and warn them.

Even then, I’m usually careful to let them know that I support their right to make their own decision and that I’m only letting them know my concerns because I care.

And at that point, usually that person thanks me and does one of the following:

  1. Proactively starts looking for other possible yellow or red flags.
  2. Proceeds as they would have before but with their eyes open wider.
  3. Ignores me entirely. (Actually, the rarest outcome for me when I follow this process.)

Downsides to This Approach

There are a few notable downsides to this approach.

It can be really difficult watching people you care about eventually become hurt and/or disappointed by someone when you saw the whole thing was going to unfold from a mile away.

It’s worth noting, too, that even when people ask¬†for your opinion, that they sometimes will still ignore/dismiss it. The fact that they asked usually helps them not hold it against you that you spoke negatively of someone. While it also seems to make it more likely that they’ll value that opinion, it does not guarantee that they will.

Finally, sometimes people will be confused that you didn’t warn them earlier. Typically when this has happened in the past, I’ve outlined the reasoning I give in this article as well as some of the research involved that states that people psychologically shoot the messenger, which means the most likely outcome when you tell people bad news, especially bad news that they’re not seeking out and/or are not ready for, they’re likely just to like you a little less and hold it against you.

Perhaps in the future I’ll send them this article instead. You’re welcome to do that, too, should you end up in a similar situation.

No One Objectively Right Way

Again, I think this is a very complicated issue and that there is no one objectively right way to balance risking ruining your own reputation or the reputation of someone else (especially based on a hunch) with making sure to warn people you care about regarding potential harm. Not one way that will work in every situation.

But this is the approach that after many years of trial and error seems to work best for me, adapted of course to the specific scenario I find myself in.

How Do You Do It?

Readers, I turn the question to you: How do you manage this balance?

Thanks in advance for your contributions to this discussion.

*

Books by Page Turner:

Dealing with Difficult Metamours

A Geek’s Guide to Unicorn Ranching

Poly Land: My Brutally Honest Adventures in Polyamory 

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