How to Do It

I Just Read About a “Horrible New Dating Trend” and Thought: Oh, I Do That

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Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by Tom Merton/iStock/Getty Images Plus. 

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Dear How to Do It,

I’ve recently seen a few articles criticizing the dating trend described as roaching.

Roaching is a pejorative term for not proactively volunteering in a new sexual relationship that you’re still sleeping with other people, albeit not to the point of being dishonest. The term alludes to the unpleasant sensation of discovering a cockroach and realizing there are probably many others you can’t see.

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I’m not convinced by this thesis. I think that the one who wants to be exclusive is the one who is making a more burdensome imposition on the other, and the onus for clarification is on them. I’m not some kind of stud with a large harem of secret conquests, but the connections I’ve slowly formed with a few women lately have become special to me. And I dread the thought of having to give any of them up for the sake of another.

I often think about what I would say if one of them asked me about it, as will no doubt happen sooner or later. While I would certainly not lie, I would struggle to articulate what I want with any confidence. I suppose what I really want is to have relationships that combine genuine intimacy with mutual autonomy, which I know from experience is possible. But I don’t know how I would convince a skeptic. How do I have the conversations and make the case for what I want in a way that sounds as credible and uncontrived as possible?

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—Bugged Out

Rich: Have you heard of this roaching?

Stoya: I have never heard of this. And if it is indeed a thing, I feel personally attacked by it.

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Rich: Totally. I did a little. I had never heard of it either.

Stoya: I’m glad I’m not the only one taking this personally.

Rich:. Before we get into it, we should just say that the reason it feels like a personal attack is because it assumes that monogamy is the standard that must be adhered to. And any deviation from it is unethical. And from a nonmonogamous perspective, that’s absurd. Like, what?

Look, I come from an ecosystem where bunches of people are having tons of sex partners. And just because you have any kind of sexual relationship with anybody, it doesn’t mean anything else may come of it. So if roaching is a thing, then socially sexually active gay men in New York are a fucking nest of roaches, which is not the worst metaphor at times, but still is overall pretty offensive to me.

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Stoya: It’s problematic because, as you said, it normalizes monogamy and expectations of monogamy and frames nonmonogamy as a deviation that has to be disclosed and explained. But also just to call it roaching. Come on.

Rich: OK. So, from what I can tell, in the articles that cite this—and I didn’t go through a whole history for this—I saw this name come up again: Susan Trombetti, CEO of Exclusive Matchmaking. The cynic in me wonders if this is a term that this person came up with to market themselves. She’s quoted, “Roaching is a dating term coined that refers to someone that is sleeping around with many.” She adds that, “If you’re aware of one other sexual partner, you could realize there are in fact many. The term comes from the ickiness of seeing one of those nasty little bugs but knowing when you turn the lights on, there are lots of them.”

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Stoya: Oh my God.

Rich: To me, this is like the greeting card holidays of internet speak. It seems like something that’s totally been manufactured. So I don’t think that we can give it much stock.

I think it is a natural question as to when you become committed to somebody, when you make that disclosure, when you have that conversation, even if that conversation is, “I’m sleeping with a bunch of people that I’m going to keep sleeping with. If you want to stay on this train, get with that program.”

Stoya: Yeah. So it depends a lot on the other person. Every relationship, you’re going to have to evaluate based on the specific other person to decide when is the right time to disclose things, if ever.

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For instance, I have one relationship. I have known the person for six years. They have met partners of mine, heard about partners of mine, seen my porn work. And when we started hooking up a year ago, eventually I was like, “We really do need to have a clarifying discussion here.”

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And the discussion was like, “Hey, so, you know I have lots of things to do with other people.” And he was like, “I want don’t ask, don’t tell.” And I’m like, “Great.”

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Rich: Easy enough.

Stoya: That was at least a year after making out for the first time. But they’d known me for so long. I was like, “Do I really need to have it?” And then I was like, “Yeah. I probably should just to check in that no assumptions have been made.” Other people who have never questioned heteronormativity, I think there is an obligation to broach it earlier because you know they’re much more likely to make assumptions.

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Rich: Definitely. But at a certain point, making those assumptions is willful ignorance. To go into this burgeoning relationship like, “Oh, well, they couldn’t possibly be sleeping with anybody else.” It’s just like, “Wake up.” Like, what do you think you’re owed? Do you not realize that people have autonomy and they’re living their lives? And the point isn’t to retrofit them into your conception of proper human behavior and what a relationship is, but take them at the point where they are.

Stoya: Yeah. I do want to make sure we get to the idea of how they can have the conversations and make the case for what they want. Because this one line: “But I don’t know how I would convince a skeptic.”

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Rich: Right.

Stoya: You kind of don’t.

Rich: Yeah, exactly. That’s an indication that you have a mismatch here. Unless you’re willing to be monogamous and you want to convert to that kind of way of living.

Stoya: Or if you’re flexible and they’re curious about a quarter of it and you can meet them the other three-quarters of the way, great. But if you’re definitely like, I need to have three to five significant romantic and sexual relationships in my life, and they’re super monogamous, you don’t convince them.

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Rich: Yeah. You don’t. And by the way, if they’re half-convinced and you’re going to proceed with this, get ready for so much drama.

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Stoya: Oh, God.

Rich: I think one of the worst things you can do to somebody that you love is permit something and then retroactively hold it against that person.

Stoya: Oh, but it happens.

Rich: So much. I’ve had relationships where I’ve set them up so there is no traditional cheating, where it’s like, we’re nonmonogamous. And then I sleep with somebody else and I’m treated as though I just cheated. And it’s like, “But wait. We said we could. This was our agreement.”

Stoya: A psychiatrist at one point said, “Date your own species.”

Rich: Amazing advice.

Stoya: This is more of an orientation. It’s much more like being gay or straight. Or asexual.

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Rich: Kind of hard-wired in a way.

Stoya: Yeah. And I’m super curious about why, if anyone wants to study it.

Anyway, so a skeptic, you don’t convince them. You can absolutely, though, share your experience with lots of people.

Rich: Yeah. Feel it out. It can come at any time. Within weeks of my relationship with my boyfriend now, which has been longer than five years, he stated in bed, “I’m not a monogamist.” And I was like, “Wonderful, great.”

And five years later, we’re still together. There was no convincing any skeptics. And that conversation came early. And it wasn’t a deterrent. It only fostered a bigger bond between us, I think.

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Stoya: And when these are connections, you only have time for so many. So you probably don’t have room for more than five. And you can find over time five partners who are willing and open, depending on where you live. If you’re living in a very sex-positive area, you can find that many partners without having to convince anyone or urge someone to go faster than their natural speed of curiosity.

Rich: And that’s the wonderful thing about filters: They get you what works for you.

More How to Do It

This week, Stoya and Rich answer letters from a woman who thought she was pro-sex work—until her friends started doing it.

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