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.