Picking Poly Partners: Don’t Date a Douche
“You’re lucky he never called.”
This was one of my best friends, sitting on my couch, an open bottle of wine and a plate of aged sheep cheese placed between us. The kids, both hers and mine, were playing in my son’s bedroom. For once they were quiet, but not too quiet. We could talk.
She was talking about the man I had groped like a hormone-driven teenager at Carnival two weeks earlier. He was her husband’s friend, staying in town with them while he fixed the roof on their village house.
I had told her about my escapades with her visitor, because I’m terrible at keeping secrets. I told her because I was dying to share my excitement with someone and I was afraid my husband, who was supportive, might get jealous if I kept talking about the man. I told her because I wanted to clear the air and didn’t want her to hear from someone else. I didn’t want her to think I was cheating on my husband or that I was embarrassed by what I had done. But, to be completely honest, I mostly told her because I wanted her to let him know I was more than willing to meet up again.
She didn’t say much at the time, but she gave him my number. I waited, knowing he was only supposed to be in town for two weeks. One week passed. My family went to the seaside, I let my mind wander away from this man who had bewitched me. Another week passed. My friend came over for wine and conversation, and now she told me I was lucky.
I didn’t feel lucky. I felt cast aside. Scorned. Stupid.
But she went on.
“There was a huge drama. We had to kick him out. Someone else is finishing our roof.”
My heart stuck in my throat, and I couldn’t even ask what she meant. Fear took the place of my shame. What had he done? Was he a terrible person? More pressing: was I a terrible judge of character?
My husband and I didn’t have many rules for selecting partners. After all, we both realized that one reason we were dating different people was to date DIFFERENT people. We knew sometimes we might not be attracted to our partner’s partners.
Our one loose rule, as my husband put it crudely, was, “Don’t date a douche.”
Had I found a douche on my first time out?
She sipped her wine, lowered her voice to make sure the kids didn’t hear, and explained. “He was an exhibitionist. He would change with the door open, shower with it open. We talked about it, asked him to stop. You know, I have a four-year old girl who could accidentally see. Then our neighbors told my mother that they saw him on the balcony… masturbating in the open. I was mortified. I can’t look them in the eyes.”
I was mortified for her and for me. I expressed the proper amount of disdain for this deviant man, and then some extra to make sure she knew I didn’t support his behavior. Throughout the evening I brought the conversation back to how lucky I was he never called and what a terrible judge of character I was. I wanted to make sure she knew I would never knowingly date that kind of man… it was important to me that she realize I didn’t know, that I was horrified.
Later that night, I admitted my mistake to my husband. Guilt washed over me as I explained the mistake in character I had made.
“I don’t why you’re so upset,” he said. “It’s not like you knew. Besides, you have your own sexual deviance.”
He was right. I’m far from an angel in bed. I’ve had my share of one night stands, questionable relationships, and strange turn-ons. Heck, I’m a bit of an exhibitionist myself. But there was one main difference between me and this man: I valued consent and he, obviously, did not. Plus, I didn’t mess around where kids could get involved. And that was really the nail in his coffin of evil. He not only exhibited himself where a four-year-old might see him, but I wondered if he did so because she might stumble upon him. And that raised the mama bear in me who wanted to castrate this man.
Suddenly, things started to fall in place. I remembered the affectionate, tender way he talked with all of the kids even when the other adults barely payed them attention. At the time I thought this was because he was a father himself, but now I wondered if there was something more sinister.
He hadn’t been interested in me once I made it clear my husband knew and approved of our meeting. Is that because he only liked the experience for the taboo of it? He had definitely been into me the night of Carnival, but was that because we were pressed up against the side of an apartment building where people might see us?
The more I thought about it, the more I realized I had missed a slew of warning signs, mostly because I didn’t know anything about this man. Inadvertently, I had “dated” a douche.
Dating With a Family
While the occasional lack of judgement in a casual hookup might have been fine when I was twenty and dating for myself, it wasn’t acceptable as a thirty-four year old wife and mother. Especially while living in a small, conservative Bulgarian town. My American-Bulgarian family with San Francisco ideals is already under constant scrutiny.
In our town, the reaction to a building painted with more than two colors that might, if you squint hard and suspend belief, look like a rainbow is, “Oh no! Our town is supporting gay pride! Quick, everyone, declare your hate for the homosexuals lest you be considered one.”
Recently, an outdoor art display featured a photograph of this mural of Trump and Putin kissing. Unable to see the politics of it, people immediately started talking about how wrong it was to display homosexuality where kids could see. My husband, ever aware of my discomfort with gay-bashing (being bi myself) stuck up for the photo and homosexuals in general. So now the most vocal community members are certain he’s a closet homosexual, using me and our kids as a beard.
While in daycare, my son wanted to wear nail polish to school. That caused a scandal among the teachers and parents. Because, “How dare I raise my boy to like girlish things!?! I need to teach him to be a man so he won’t be gay!”
In other words, my family is already standing out on the edge of society. Openly bisexual and raising kids without traditional gender constrictions makes me and a my children a target for the deep-seated, nationalist hatred flowing hot in the veins of our neighbors. Now we’re adding being openly poly to the mix.
In this position, I have to be the perfect bisexual. We have to be the perfect gender-anarchist parents. We have to practice flawless polyamory. We can’t afford to make mistakes, or it will be the social ruin of not only us but our children.
Looking back, that night was a lot of fun. It was a break from the seriousness and depth of my current life. If it had been just me and my reputation, I would have no problem with having made an honest mistake when it came to judging a hookup. And you know what? No one would have expected me to deeply screen my potential play partner. They would have seen me as another victim of his charm, not a terrible parent. But because I’m a parent, it’s almost as if I sanctioned his deviant behavior in being with him.
It makes me realize how many douches I’ve dated in the past. I didn’t care when they tore me apart emotionally. I never had a need to protect myself, because I could deal with the fallout.
But when you’re poly with a family, the fallout doesn’t just hit you. It hits your significant other. It marks your children. Whether it’s fair or not, it’s how the monogamous world works. It’s how conservative Bulgaria works. You can’t let a single douche slip into your life… into their lives.
So now, solidified. Ratified. We have our first rule of polyamory: Don’t date a douche.