I’m not a very rulesy sort of person, but I’m aware that other people can be, perhaps especially in the poly/open community. There’s a level of relationship geekery that lends itself toward it, plus people tend to respond to bad experiences by swearing not to do the things that they did last time. It’s understandable, even if it’s not really my own preferred response. I’m certainly not going to tell people that they can’t or shouldn’t conduct their relationships that way.
One rule in particular that’s fairly common is some variation of a “first date” rule, governing how far someone will go on a given date. Sometimes it’s just “no sex on the first date”, sometimes more complicated-“no making out on the first date, no sex until the third”; “no sex until you’ve met my primary”; “no further than second base until the fourth date”; “no sex on the first date, but then definitely sex on the second date, and then no sex again until the 6th date, then wild monkey crazy fucking on the 7th through 11th dates, then the 12th date is ANAL ONLY, and then just regular missionary stuff until the 303rd date at which point we will start to lose interest and then liven things up with some toys…”-anyway. Many people have them.
The issue I’ve run into with these, beyond my usual distaste for rules, is that, as someone who does not have such a rule, I’m put in a strange position by not knowing the other parties’ ruleset. I’ve now gone out with a couple of people who clearly had such a rule–up front comments like “we’re not going to have sex tonight” make it fairly clear–but who didn’t tell me what the rule was, or worse, didn’t bring it up until there was some fairly serious heavy petting going on.
Now, obviously, at these points, the response is to back off, or at least not push to go any further. And, now that I know there is a rule, I know not to try to overstep those bounds… but I don’t know what the rule is. My options for future dates are to either continue to be as forward as I am (and I’m a naturally very forward person, at least once mutual interest is established) and risk pushing someone’s boundaries in an uncomfortable and unfair way, or to back off for the next few dates and let them make the first move. I’m not going to do the former, but the latter, in my experience, means things tend to just drift off into nothing; I think most of my dates are people who want to be pursued in some way, but when that desire is combined with something along these lines, it puts me in a very awkward position.
Now, I am in no way decrying the existence of a first date rule (or a third date, or what have you). But this gets back to that old poly chestnut of communication and its importance–and communication has several elements, one of those being clarity. It would be a kindness for someone who operates under a rule like this, if it’s explicit to them, to make it explicit to the people they’re seeing. In these specific cases, that would have allowed me to adjust my behavior, backing off no more than necessary, and that would have meant remaining in a territory where the people I was dating were more comfortable. Instead, lacking this information, the best I could do was to back off and wait for a signal to proceed.
This cuts both ways, too; having discovered that such rules were in place, I could have asked what they were, and in the future I’ll likely do so. I’m learning that, as someone who likes to have things explicit, it’s on me to make them so.