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Is it unethical to date someone who is in a monogamous relationship?

Is it ethical for a polyamorous person to pursue or date someone who is in a monogamous relationship (married or otherwise) and does not have the consent of their partner? I am getting some mixed input from friends, so I figure more feedback the better. Thanks.

Just to clarify, I considered dating someone who hit on a monogamous married man in front of me and she didn’t have an issue with it but I did.

/u/_whataboutjohnny, /r/polyamory.
Manki Kim, @kimdonkey. Unsplash.

There is actually a lot of nuance here. So my quick answer is that it depends on the circumstance.

As a polyamorous person, there is a world of difference between dating a monogamous person who is currently single and dating a monogamous person who is in a monogamous relationship with another. And both of those are completely different in the context of dating a monogamous-minded person compared to hitting on a monogamous-minded person. All of it boils down to intention, and statement of those said intentions.

When a polyamorous person dates a monogamous person, the onus of consent lies exclusively with the two individuals in the engagement. Each person has an opportunity to consent to the relationship they are each participating in. The polyamorous person will have to acknowledge that the person they are dating is monogamous. As such, dating monofolks come with an added emotional commitment to deprogram existing monogamy-based societal norms, to manage emotional/sexual insecurities, and to facilitate their commitment in a meaningful and fruitful way. In turn, the monogamous person will have to acknowledge that the person they are dating is polyamorous. As such, dating polyfolks come with the added emotional commitment to accept their ability to form multiple connections, to familiarize themselves with literature surrounding ethical non-monogamy, and to acknowledge and accept that polyamory isn’t always about sex. With those two layers of consent, a mono-poly relationship can be ethical.

This is a completely different experience than dating a monogamous person who is already in a monogamous relationship with another person. In this particular scenario, there is an existing exclusive agreement that the monogamous person has in their monogamous relationship. Sometimes, that agreement isn’t explicit. After all, we do live in a world where monogamy is the accepted standard. Consent of all involved parties is core to ethical non-monogamy. Therefore, pursuing a relationship with someone who does not have explicit consent of all involved would be unethical, even if the person consenting is unaware.

Both of these scenarios are completely different in the context of flirting. Personally, I am a shameless flirt. I am outwardly effusive and generous with genuine compliments. So even with people I know are unavailable for me to date and even when I’m not looking to date, I tell people what I like about them. I generally operate under the function that I’ll let the interested parties know if I am actually interested in pursuing them as partners. In all other occasions, my friends understand that it is harmless flirting, a general way to spread acknowledgment and validation of their inner and outer beauties. As such, my explicit intention puts an arbitrary boundary on my flirting so that it isn’t misunderstood or misconstrued. So I would consider that flirting in itself isn’t unethical, especially when the intentions are explicitly stated.

On the other hand, if the intentions about flirting are dishonest, then it would be unethical. So for example, if the intention of your poly-identified friend when they hit on a monogamous married man was to coerce and entice him into engaging in an unethical behavior with them (i.e. cheating), then it would be non-consensual on his partner’s behalf and therefore unethical. I would say that, for me personally, that type of behavior would be unbecoming of a partner as it reflects deep character flaws that could mean that they might otherwise facilitate other unethical behaviors in my relationship with them as well.

So the ethics of it all really boils down to…

  • Was it consensual?
  • Was it intentional?

Tea Time with Tomato is an informative relationship and sex advice column for both monogamous and polyamorous folks. By submitting your post, you agree to let me use your story in part or in full. You also agree to let me edit or elaborate for clarity.

I want to hear your thoughts and feedback! Please feel free to send me your questions and comments at teatimetomato@gmail.com. If you liked my advice for this post, please subscribe below to get alerted when my next advice column is published!

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