How to Do It is Slate’s sex advice column. Have a question? Send it to Stoya and Rich here. It’s anonymous!
Every week, the crew responds to a bonus question in chat form.
Dear How to Do It,
For a couple months, I’ve been talking and flirting with a friend and former classmate. He told me he and his wife are polyamorous, and while I don’t have experience with the poly lifestyle, I’m interested and I’ve researched it. The thing is, after the election, on top of an already hard year, his life sort of imploded. He’s been busy ever since, and communication is at an all-time low. For the record, I’ve been busy too, but I don’t want to bother him with messages or come off clingy—I genuinely care about him and I want him to know that I’m there for him. Besides, he’s made it clear that we can’t meet up until after quarantine, which I’m totally fine with. Any advice navigating this delicate situation?
Stoya: I feel a lot of anxiety in this letter, and I don’t think it’s entirely necessary
Rich: My first thought is that he’s no longer interested or available. And in any event, she seems way more invested than he does.
Stoya: Just like “gay” doesn’t equal “interested in everyone of the same sex,” poly doesn’t equal “interested in every human.”
Rich: Yes. And here’s the thing: Even if the attached person you’re talking to is conducting himself totally ethically (and in line with his partner’s conception of how things work), you’re still dealing with someone who is sharing a life and, in some ways, a mind. So even if he was all about it, something may have changed with his wife. She vetoed for whatever reason; she needs him to be more present; she expressed discomfort; she said something that made him rethink his path, etc. In those cases, the explanation may seem too involved to offer to someone you are casually flirt-texting.
Stoya: Absolutely. I think we should leave room for another possibility—his life could be so incredibly imploded that he doesn’t have the bandwidth to communicate. And he may want to be friends or sexual partners later when things are more stable.
Rich: Totally. It’s not necessarily rejection. Radio silence, however, does tend to be an indication that you stand outside of a person’s priorities. It’s a brutal truth of all this up-close communicating we do.
Stoya: Being outside of someone’s priorities in a crisis isn’t a comment on that person’s worth as a human, but it does send a signal about how comfortable they feel leaning on them when things get tough.
Rich: Ideally, he’d straightforwardly explain what changed, but maybe he feels like that’s too deep given the nature of their communication. I think our writer’s impulse to refrain from bothering him and being wary of coming off as clingy is the right one.
Stoya: For sure. And she can spend that extra time learning more about polyamory and thinking about whether it’s a good fit for her.
Rich: Given the fairly clear (at least from my vantage point) disparity in investment, she can also think about the way she approaches these interactions. Everyone’s looking for something different, and perhaps he could have detected an interest beyond his that spelled future complications. I’m not necessarily advising to refrain from wearing your heart on your sleeve, I’m just pointing out that sometimes doing so marks you. You could, as a matter of course, be indicating that you’re not a good fit for what the other person is looking for or needs.
Stoya: Ooooh. I’m having a reaction. I think some people are early intense investors, and others take a long time to warm up, with most obviously existing somewhere in the middle. And that it’s a matter of matching. So telegraphing one’s heart-sleeveness is efficient.
Rich: Yep, true. If I’m single, I’m an early intense investor, and I’m well aware of how off-putting that can be. But then, when intensity doesn’t push people away, that’s when you know you really might have something.
Rich: So efficient is the word. It weeds out but also works like Miracle Grow, depending on the other person’s receptiveness.
Stoya: I think early intense investors are WONDERFUL. They’re brave, and bold, and usually incredibly warm.
Rich: I agree. However, in a more casual setting, in which I am already attached to someone, the early investors signal potential complications. And if I’m just after a sexual connection, it can feel daunting. In some cases, a single encounter can make me feel like I’m taking on too much. We should all keep in mind that our writer is fairly young, and these intricacies to approach are often not quite ironed out at such an age. It’s all about trial and error at this point.
Stoya: Our writer’s instincts were sound here, and I think she’ll do well to listen to those in the future as she moves through life and interact with different partners.
More How to Do It
I’m a 28-year-old woman who’s been married to my husband for five years now. He is the only sexual partner I’ve ever had (for penetrative sex at least), and I enjoy what we do a lot. I just have one issue—an issue I’ve always had, now that I think about it.