A frequent question that polyamorous educators and content creators get asked is "How do I meet new people?" Slightly less often (and more from non-men) we also get "how can I tell if someone I met online or once at a meetup is safe?" (Or "actually good at polyamory" or "as experienced as they say they are" or other similar questions.) While there's no one perfect answer to any of these questions, I want to talk about them a little today. You meet other polyam people the way you meet anyone you'd like to date - either through hobbies & activities, through mutual friends, or through apps. Now that even Tinder is adding a relationship style option, we really don't have an excuse to go "oh no never the dating apps!" but if we really feel that way, the choice is to meet people and out ourselves as polyamorous over and over and see that they react alright, and be prepared that they might not.
But, once you've met an interest, or someone has shown interest in you - how do you know they're safe to date? Or that they have whatever experience in polyamory they say they have? As someone who came up in a kink background at the same time as a polyamorous one, my initial reaction is to go "oh, it's a small subculture, you vet them." What's vetting? In kink, before entering into new relationships, especially play-based relationships, you get references for people.You ask around the local community - either people they've dated or played with, or community leaders and teachers who have seen them show up to classes and events who can vouch that they're new but have shown up to xyz things with a good attitude and willingness to learn and general friendliness. You then consider that information together with what the person is saying about their experience, see if it matches, and see how it fits with your risk profile.
To apply that to polyamory, I'd say it's something like - if they say they've been polyamorous for 10 years and have always lived in this area, ask if they've been going to events or just dating through apps and if the former, chat with folks who run local events and see how they behave at them. Are they a beloved fixture? Somebody who just comes by sometimes but well-liked? They show up with X, Y, or Z person so you could ask them for actual character reference, the host doesn't know them that well, would you like public platform contact info or an introduction at the next event? Actually, they've been banned from this event for five years because of An Incident? That's information to add to your picture. If they've just been dating through apps you can choose to just take them at their word - in mono dating we do this all the time- but you have no additional info to add to your picture so make sure they really fit in your risk profile and don't be surprised if they're a little bit of an unreliable narrator. We all want to present the best version of ourselves.
I wouldn't go wildly out of my way to apply this tool to someone I hope to date - but because polyamorous communities are small and it is pretty easy to ask around about someone (and I'm not in a big city so we all are kind of 6 degrees of Kevin Bacon apart) I usually try for a minute before a first date. It's more helpful to me than Googling someone. After chatting with folks around I tend to end up with information like: "Oh, Jack? He and his wife are pretty new, right before the pandemic they'd started coming out to events and dated around a bit, mostly together - then they closed for two years when the world closed - they give me kinky swinger vibes based on who they play with but they're on apps alone now so maybe there have been changes??" And I get to ask follow-up questions about who to talk to who they actually dated and make my choices. (I went on one date that didn't work out with "Jack." He wasn't unsafe in any way - polyam or kink - we just didn't gel as a pair.)
Because there are certain buzzwords that are trending in non-monogamy and people know it, they try really hard to fit their square pegs into round holes, and it can make it harder when you go on that first date with a "well, I have a nesting partner but we're trying to avoid couple's privilege and hierarchy" and then get there to find a recitation of their list of agreements a mile long that fundamentally enshrine hierarchy. Sometimes this kind of community vetting can warn you of people who say one thing while doing the other, and sometimes nothing can prepare you because people take several dates to slow-roll you into it. There is no fool-proof method to make sure someone is approaching you for connection with honesty - just do it yourself and hopefully so will others.
There are new podcast episodes up on Abuse in Polyamory - you can find part 1 here or at any podcast platform. Part 2 will be up on Thursday the 22.
Saturday the 25 of March I'll be teaching Relationship Anarchy Applied digitally for Wicked Grounds - sliding scale tickets are here.