Rings and Conversation – Polyamory, Flirting, & Wedding Rings

This blog was originally posted on Life on the Swingset on January 17, 2012.

Allow me to preface by saying that I am terrible at flirting. I am almost always oblivious to the fact that I am being flirted with, and my idea of showing that I am interested in someone is hiding from them and failing to make eye contact. So any ideas about flirting and sparking conversation that I present should be taken with that in mind.

It occurred to me today – well, many times, but I only dwelled enough on the subject to write about it today – that the wedding ring, which once was the universal sign for, “Don’t even try to flirt with me.” has lost that aspect of its meaning in my life. How many people do we know who are happily married and also romantically available? I am on that list.

The wedding ring used to tell me that a person was off-limits – though, truly, even before I entered into a poly lifestyle that meaning was one I imposed. The fact that I was not poly at the time didn’t say anything about the person wearing the ring. The strange thing is, I still do the glance for a ring when I see someone attractive, even though I am both married and available. It’s an odd impulse. Even though I am not monogamous myself, I seem to subconsciously anticipate monogamy in others.

Also, as a poly person, I find the transition from small-talk to, “I think you’re hot and we should totally do stuff.” to be more difficult to maneuver, even in the absence of a ring. Monogamous folks have a whole stash of easy lines, like, “Do you have a boyfriend/girlfriend?” I would feel more than a little forward (and ridiculous) with a line like, “Are you in a monogamous relationship?” Or, “Oh, you do have a girlfriend/boyfriend? Are you set on having just one?” Doesn’t really work so well. I’m downright awful at flirting to begin with. This just compounds the issue. Especially if someone goes for the, “So, are you married?” line and I have to counter with “Yes, but that’s no reason you should give up,” or try to fit a mention of my husband’s girlfriend into the conversation as a hint. Not easy.

For instance, I had been recently crushing on a regular customer at my job. I was certain that he was married, as he often comes in with his wife. I work at a sex-positive cafe, so expectations of monogamy are lower in my workplace than they are in the outside world, but I didn’t know how to find out. It took me several months of small talk from behind the counter to discern that yes, in fact, they are monogamous, so I should drop my interest and move on. That left me in a long-term emotional limbo that I didn’t especially enjoy.

I wish I could say I learned something through this experience, and that next time I will know just what to do differently to avoid that discomfort. I can’t say that. Next time I meet someone attractive, I will go through this exact same process all over again. Maybe eventually I will uncover the secret to learning whether someone is monogamous without making myself look like a creeper. When I do, I promise I’ll write it on a big banner and show it to everyone I know.

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