Recently, my attention was called to a message in a polyamory forum about turbulence in a polyamorous relationship caused when one person wanted to start dating a friend, and that person’s existing partner wanted to impose a “No dating existing friends” rule.

I haven’t seen many examples, at least so far, of people prohibiting other people from beginning romantic relationships with anyone who was already a friend. Yet as I read this message, it seemed many other people on that forum had, or wanted, similar rules. And as I considered the prospect of such prohibitions on dating friends (with, I must say, a certain degree of head-scratching bafflement), I came to the conclusion that it might be wise to add a screening question to my list:1 “Do your partners prohibit you from turning friendships into relationships?” And if the answer turns out to be “yes,” I will likely take a pass on romantic involvement with such a person.

As I read the comments on the post, a common theme emerged: “I don’t want to deal with the drama that will result if I allow my partner to date existing friends, which will damage the friendships.” And that made me scratch my head, because–leaving aside for the moment the issue that it’s a little messed up to value your own fear of “drama” over your partner’s ability to choose romantic connections–it seems to me a huge vote of no confidence in the relationship skills of the person this prohibition is placed on.

Some folks prefer to keep their relationships and their friendships separate. That’s not for me; I can’t speak for anyone else, of course, but I want my lovers to be my friends, and I’ve had many relationships that have transitioned from friend to lover, and some that have transitioned from friend to lover and back to friend…and some of these have been among the most rewarding relationships of my life.

But here’s the thing: when a person says, “I don’t want my partner to have relationships with anyone who is already a friend because drama,” that person is actually saying, “I believe my partner has such absolutely terrible relationship skills that their relationships are bound to fail, leaving a twisted, smoking mass of rubble where the friendship once stood…and I feel like I have the authority to demand my partner not be allowed to do that.”

Which is a little…err, weird.

I understand and admire valuing friends and wanting to protect friendships. The path to doing this, seems to me, is to treat your friends (and your lovers!) with respect, compassion, and dignity. If I had a partner who wanted to date a friend–something that has happened many times, I might add–I can’t imagine telling her, “No, please don’t do that.” I believe relationships work best when we trust our partners to make good choices, rather than seeking to control our partners’ choices. If I thought my partner was incapable of making good choices or building healthy relationships, I would probably find it more beneficial to question why I was with her, rather than placing restrictions on her. (To be fair, it’s no secret I’m skeptical of any situation where person A tells person B who B can and can’t date. Indeed, I think the right to choose our romantic partners for ourselves is a core human right. But A telling B not to date C because B is already friends with C seems particularly odd to me; after all, if we are allowed to date only folks who are strangers, then it shouldn’t be a surprise when we end up dating folks we don’t know a lot about, which doesn’t seem like a good drama-reduction strategy to me.)

We are, I think, culturally conditioned to be very frightened indeed of romantic relationships, and to invest them with so many fears and horror stories that we all too easily forget how awesome they can make our lives. When we say, “I don’t want you to date a friend because it will lead to drama,” we speak volumes about how we think of romantic relationships–and we lead with our fears, not our hopes.

1 Among the things on my “screening list” are questions like “Do you have experience in polyamorous relationships?” and “Do you want or are you currently in a relationship that has veto?” I choose not to date people who are not already poly or who use veto.


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Matthew G · June 21, 2014 at 5:50 pm

While I totally understand the personal nature of the screening list(1), I’d be interested in reading as much as you care to share.
And regardless, reading about yours made me realize that I might find a lot of benefit in having one of my own. Thanks!

Thomas · July 14, 2014 at 2:51 am

Hi Franklin, Thanks very much for this clarifying post. I’ll take it home and translate it to German, then I’ll read it with my wife 🙂 I am keen to hear what she will say.

Liz · November 11, 2014 at 1:23 pm

I think this kind of thought process is parallel to the non-poly thought process that many people have where they make restrictions on dating the exes of friends.

While I would never want to date an ex of a friend who was abusive, I used to have many friends who had this idea that, even after they’d had an amicable break-up with someone, and a goodly portion of time had passed, it still wasn’t permissible for a friend to date an ex. Actually, it used to break down along gender lines: Guys thought that guy friends should ask “permission” to date a female ex. Gals thought that female friends should *never* date an ex.

This caused me to move away from a number of friends over time, because it seemed like a ridiculous and controlling way to treat your friends. I moved away from being friends (and possibly more) with a fellow poly woman who I initially had great chemistry with, because she let me know that she had very strong feelings about her friends dating other certain friends, and wouldn’t feel comfortable in a relationship with someone who was also in relationships with certain friends. It made me feel so deeply uncomfortable that I decided it wasn’t worth pursuing a relationship with her.

I reserve the right to make my own experiences and my own mistakes with partners. And I believe that my partners have that same right. The only reason I would have for cautioning a partner about dating someone is if I’d seen the other person behave in troubling ways towards previous partners. And if my partner chose to date that person anyway, then we would all meet any challenges associated with that head-on, as equals, with all of us making the best choices we can for ourselves.

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