Savage Love Letter of the Day: Why Couldn't He Follow the Rule?


What's with all the "gonna"s and "wanna"s in your response, Dan?
Also, in your list of "PIV, PIB, PBJ" you left out PBR. And you know, sometimes a lot of PBR leads to BISomewhere and afterwards you both want a PBJ.
@2: Fixed.
Sounds like that can all happen PDQ.
" I nevertheless felt that if he couldn't set and adhere to limits in small ways, how could I trust him to honor a BIG promise, like to always use condoms?"


If I can't trust my girlfriend to not eat all the M&Ms in my den and not buy more, how can i possibly trust her to honor a BIG promise, like not emptying the joint back account?

"This relationship imploded for other reasons,"

I have a pretty good idea what they were, and it had to do with your sense of logic leaking out your ears like warm jell-o.
gah. *joint BANK account*
Seriously, though: those weren't "rules." That was a shit test.

What you wanted him to do is pre-emptively set a hard limit on a date with someone else. The practical effect of doing it your way was of you standing behind his left ear and clucking "Nuh-uh-ahhhh! Don't you dare. You promised." Sure, that's going to go over real well with his date. In other words, you were basically preemptively fucking up his evening -- all the while claiming "Look how giving I am, see, you nominally have permission to go all the way." That's pretty manipulative.
Ok I feel a little bit like the slow kid here but could someone please spell out those acronyms for the very innocent of acronymally challenged among us?

Oh and @6: exactly! It's a slippery slope, isnt it? Someone could forget to replace the toilet paper today and tomorrow shit on the living room carpet. You can't trust a non TP replacer. You just never know and you can't be too careful.
If you need to emotionally prepare for every kiss when your monogamish partner is out on a date - and in fact, if you need to get a report of every intimate activity after said date, in a not-a-turn-on kind of way, but to compare to the previously approved activities - then maybe, just maybe, you aren't emotionally ready for an open relationship.
@9 penis in vagina, penis in butt, Pabst Blue Ribbon, peanut butter & jelly.

Set to fail.

It's true. My dog never replaces the toilet paper and she has shit in the living room.
(Disclosure: I don't have a dog.)
@ #13 - did your dog tell you she was going to shit in the living room first? If not, dude, you need a new dog.
How can we trust someone who lies about having a dog!? Who really shat the living room!!?!
@13 - I can confirm. I have two dogs and neither has replaced the TP and both have shit in the living room. Once even on the same day. Never let your dogs find out about the giant stash of dog food samples you got at the pet expo.
I'm more sympathetic to the LW. This seems like what almost everyone does before their first threesome--set a few very narrow and arbitrary-seeming rules, just to test the waters and make sure the rules will be respected before taking any actual risks.

When you don't know what temperature the water might be, you put a toe in before diving. That doesn't mean you shouldn't try to swim, it means you're trying to find out if this is somewhere you want to swim.

Just FYI, pickup artists don't seem to fully grasp what a shit test is about, largely due to too narrow a focus. Displaying low commitment isn't always the appropriate response.
Mr Monic - I think it was about 1970 when I once heard the Garden of Eden explained along that line.
What I don't understand is why these arbitrary rulemakers seem completely incapable of putting themselves in the position of the third person.

You have a date. The date has gone well. You want to kiss the person. They say, "No, I can't kiss you, I didn't clear kissing with my partner beforehand." WTF? If I were this hypothetical "you," I'd conclude that, A, this person is a loser, and B, their partner doesn't really get poly and continuing to date this person is going to be a whole lotta drama from an immature metamour.

So in other words, yes, SFCN, your "rule" is unreasonable. Does your partner have a crystal ball? Does he know exactly how well and in what direction the date will go ahead of time? Can he make unilateral plans about whether the date will want a kiss, a snog, or more? It's easy to say, "No, I won't kiss her," but how about if she initiates the kiss?

If your relationship allows you to date other people, then you have to accept that a "date" might get hot, or not. Telling someone about the date, being safe on the date, then being honest about what happened after the date, are reasonable expectations. Scripting someone else's date is not.
Just round off the rule to "anything goes." What are you losing, the fifth or sixth decimal place on that fucker?
22 I the only one here who read the link Dan provided at the end of his response? The link to an article about cock and ball removal. An article that ended with a discussion about groups of men hanging around and eating freshly severed human testes?!?!
So he's expected to say "kissing only tonight, no boob grabs" and then if they're making out he's suppossed to stop and say something like "I only have preapproval for tongue, put those tits away right now before i get in trouble!"

Yea - I see the logic behind your thought process, but better in theory than practice. Sounds like his reaction of cutting off his end was his way of saying that he's putting you first, and no amount of 3rd person sexing is worth more to him than losing you. It's almost as if he went on the dates to make you happy or to keep some kind of evenness because you were as well.
Have you ever tried to kiss a guy, and he said no, then been excited to go out with him again?

Anyways, point is, rejecting a woman's advances is basically impossible without "Old Yeller'ing" her.
@22, you took the bait! Never click the random links unrelated to the article. Dan just likes to make you contemplate the horrible because he has too. It's like "ewww! Smell this!"

And Dan, great job being gentle with her. I cringed reading this because I anticipated such a smack down.

I feel bad for this girl. She's clearly terrified, and not ready. Open relationships have rules, but you can't get so very controlling with them. If you haven't come to terms with him fucking other women, you need to get there first. Get yourself some books and do some hard thinking. Youll still feel anxiety, however. And the only way to get past that is to actually let him fuck other women and have it go well for you. It's like riding a bike. You're really scared, and you'll probably fall off a few times and get banged up (mistakes will be made - that's normal), but then it'll get easier and easier and soon you'll feel silly that you were so very very scared. That is, if you have good communication, emotional resilience, mutual respect, and good self-care. It's ok to not be ready. It's ok to open and then close if you need a break. But please don't expect perfection - people routinely get hurt in the opening up stages and it takes mistakes to figure out what's gonna work. Forgiveness is a huge part of learning to be happy in a relationship. Don't put up with bullshit, but practice forgiving, if he learns and doesn't do it again.
It's also the case that in heterosexual relationships, many people expect that it is the female partner who will set the limits for how far the couple goes. Since the LW is the female, she knows ahead of time how far things will go. But her partner is male, and the expectations are different for him when he interacts with another woman. Sure, he COULD set limits, but that will feel different to his other partner than it will to the LW's other partner when SHE sets limits.
Actually, when I ducked a kiss from a woman because kissing wasn't within the parameters I had with my partner, I explained the reasons why. It made me more attractive to the woman, because she knew that I would abide by expressly stated boundaries and that I respected my partner's wishes and comfort levels.

I now live with that woman. She's amazing.
@26: I hadn't considered that angle, but it's true. A woman setting limits for a male partner looks normal--gatekeeper model, and all that--but a man refusing to kiss a woman comes across as being abnormally uninterested.
Risky click at the end of Dan's response.
@22 I read it. I now know a lot more about the sex life of men who had their cock and balls removed than I did before.
secretagent @25, when people set up rules for their relationships (whether open or not), they should expect those rules to get broken from time to time. If that's not acceptable, then find someone who wants roughly the same things you want, and then you won't need to worry about broken rules.

As you say: "Don't expect perfection."
@31, I think there's an element of planning that's being omitted there--that it's important to make rules that you can reasonably expect will be followed. I'm thinking that if the rules that feel important to you don't seem to have any overlap with the kind of rules that you can reasonably expect will be followed, then something's wrong.

Basically the second part--find someone who wants roughly the same things you want, or look really hard at what aspect of the rules you really care about, and which element of the rule-breaking your partner really cares about; sometimes there's a hidden middle ground. Usually this means thinking through what the goals behind the rules are, which isn't easy.
Eudaemonic, I wouldn't call it "which element of the rule-breaking your partner really cares about" but rather "which element of his/her own life your partner won't let someone else control."

Yes, people shouldn't agree to rules they can't live with, but it happens all the time because the person accepting the imposed rule doesn't feel able to speak up for what they actually want.
I think Dan is probably right about the mixed messages but I think a lot of people are overestating how hard it would be to let your partner know what might happen.
You don't need a crystal ball to say, "If it goes well we'll probably kiss and if it goes really well there may be some groping."
And it's not like it's earth shattering to shut something down at a specific point. Does every date you go on go straight from goodnight kiss to full-on fucking or do you sometimes stop after a kiss and say, "Wow, that was great. I have to get home now but I can't wait to see you again."?
@33: I was thinking of situations where it's something like a "No sleeping over" rule, when what the rule-maker actually wants is to never be left alone on a Friday night--and instituted the "no sleepovers" rule because it seemed like the best way to avoid that. If what the other partner wants is to be free to have the occasional Tuesday sleepover, then they both benefit much more from interrogating their own wishes than either one would from just accepting a little rulebreaking.

TL, DR: Sometimes we make rules as a means to an end, without consciously noticing what the end really is.
As someone in an open relationship, I couldn't disagree with Dan and most of the commenters more. Most people seem to be fixating on the fact that it isn't reasonable to expect a partner to not kiss a date. Maybe so, maybe not, but either way, it's irrelevant. What is relevant is that boyfriend made a promise to LW that he broke. Twice. If the promise was unrealistic, BF ideally should have recognized that before making it--and certainly should have realized it after breaking the promise the first time. LW has every reason to be upset. I would be, too.
@36 I kind of sort of agree. I also agree with Dan about the mixed signals the LW is sending, but really, the guy didn't need to keep saying "nothing will happen." I know that my partner sometimes says stuff like that because he's insecure before dates and doesn't want to get his own hopes up, but then it's kind of selfish. Why not say, making out is possible but no sex today? That's a relatively reasonable boundary for a first date and would not be so hard to abide by.
@35 "just accepting a little rulebreaking" -- I don't think people should just turn a blind eye ("accept") when rules are broken. I think people who issue (or agree to) rules should expect each rule to demonstrate (when broken) where a hot issue is in the relationship -- and then they should discuss that issue. And, yes, hopefully they'll find out that what they each want is compatible with what the other person can provide in the long run.
Simple. He just goes to the men's, sends a text to at home girl, saying its on. Gives at home girl plenty of time to let the emotions flow- and bob's your uncle.
LW; just widen the boundaries a little. From a -head- of -date, which is just a teensy weenzy bit controlling, to including date.
Or better still, when he's heading out the door, tell him to enjoy his night and let it all be his/ the date's decision.
As I understand open relationships, you either in or you out.
Okay, weirdly, I object to the general line of advice, here. Dan has often said when talking/writing to couples contemplating threesomes, that the couple can set whatever rules they need to to make both partners feel secure; that early meetings can be limited to "strictly rolling around" or "no PIV"; that abiding by these (often unreasonable) early rules is a way to build your partner's trust and provide evidence of your ability to adhere to agreed limits. It sounds like the LW took that seriously, like this rule IS a shit-test, and in these particular circumstances, Dan has previously declared shit-tests absolutely fair and to be expected in the early stages of opening a relationship.

In addition, I don't REALLY buy the argument that 'ducking a kiss from an outside partner is totally unreasonable and will be a turn-off to any sensible outside partner!' I think it would absolutely be a turn-off to some, and those people would be poor additional partners for the members of this couple. They'd probably have done better with new partners like clashfan describes above, who recognize predetermined limits as the sign of respected agreements that they are, and respects the pre-existing relationship enough to respect those limits in the moment.

And finally, even if you think the LW's rule is ridiculous, the boyfriend Done Fucked Up. Because, having agreed to this rule, how hard is it to say, "First date... Maybe some kissing, light making out, if things go well. Laters!"
Ugh, sorry for the novel. I lurk a lot, but apparently when I pipe up, I've got Shit To Say.
@41 Agreed. Dan did say all that stuff.
And from experience I know that it can hurt. (To be fair, in my case it was, "Hey, I'm going home with her" after "Nothing will happen today, just coffee." And we didn't even have a rule like that. I just asked what my partner thought would happen and he said, nothing.)
@41: "Dan has often said when talking/writing to couples contemplating threesomes, that the couple can set whatever rules they need to to make both partners feel secure; that early meetings can be limited to "strictly rolling around" or "no PIV"; that abiding by these (often unreasonable) early rules is a way to build your partner's trust and provide evidence of your ability to adhere to agreed limits."

That's exactly what I was thinking. It's a little odd that Dan didn't seem to go into that at all.
If the promise was phrased as "Nothing is going to happen," the problem is that the promise was non-specific. For a lot of people, it would make sense to say, "I kissed her, but nothing happened." Literally, the promise "Nothing is going to happen" can't be true--something is going to happen. If you want a promise that certain things are not going to happen, it's best to get that promise explicitly. He might not have kissed her if instead of saying "Nothing is going to happen," he said "I am not going to kiss her."
@36, I think there was some inadequate communication on the ex's end, but I'm willing to cut him some slack because I could easily see someone saying "nothing's going to happen" and meaning "nothing that could spread an STI." So, could be as much different understandings of "nothing" as actual rulebreaking, especially if she didn't *say* what bothered her after the first time. Granted, a lot of assumption-making there.

Also...she came to him with a problem ("you're not setting limits for yourself and following them on dates, I don't like that") and he came up with a solution ("ok, I won't keep going on dates then") and...she's still upset at him? Sometimes the easiest way for people to follow small, ambiguous rules (or rules they don't understand the reason for) is to set bigger, clearer rules. Overall, I think it'd be better on her to accept the situation as "he figured out a way to keep his promises, by not dating" than to focus on "he broke his promises, twice."

Also, for crying out loud, just because it's easy for *her* to set limits ahead of time doesn't mean it's easy for *him.* People are different -- might be a gender thing, might just be personal differences, but people are different.
I actually totally understand the sender. I also like knowing before a date what to expect. It makes me feel like I'm part of it, rather than it happening behind my back. I know you can't predict everything, but if you don't know, just set the limit high so you're not likely to go above it. And wherever you set the limit, stop there. Because I agree that I wouldn't trust someone who says "nothing will happen" and then something happens. I would see him as the kind of guy who will hide things to protect my feelings, or break commitments on the spur of the moment. Not someone I can trust.

And I agree that if I can't trust someone to keep small promises/commitments, I definitely wouldn't be comfortable about bigger ones. Sure, it may look like a slippery slope argument. Maybe it is. I understand it, though. A guy who doesn't have enough self-control to stop himself from kissing someone when he promised he wouldn't probably doesn't have enough self control to stop in the middle of foreplay to put a condom on either, since the latter requires more self-control than the former, in my opinion.

This being said, I think the issue was slightly different. It probably wasn't a lack of self-control but a lack of understanding. I think the ex didn't realise that the discussion they had were binding to the letter sender. He probably saw them as his current state of mind or something. So if he went to the date with no expectations (which is good, it avoids disappointments or entitlement) he probably said he didn't think anything at all would happen. He probably saw it as "well, the default is nothing, so if I'm not absolutely sure something will happen, I'll say nothing will" while she saw it as "the default is everything, so unless I'm absolutely sure something won't happen, I'll say it may".

This being said, after the first time, I would think the resulting discussion would make him understand how she felt. And it doesn't really matter if you think your partner is silly to want something. The way I see it, if you know something is very important to your partner, and it's not important to you, then you do it their way. Otherwise it shows you don't really care that something is important to them: you'll still do whatever you want if you don't feel the same way. Not a nice precedent to set. I don't know if my partner will agree with me about what is and isn't important. So the best I can hope if for them to respect what I deem important even if they feel differently (and of course in return, I must respect things that are important to them even if I can't understand them).

If you can't do that, I don't think the relationship is going to work because you won't feel appreciated or respected. Obviously, this discussion was important to the LS. Her ex didn't realise it, or didn't care. The latter seems more likely considering it happened more than once, and when she was upset he wasn't sorry but defensive.