Some of us are just not looking for a relationship. We have our reasons—and I don’t think there is anything necessarily wrong with it, assuming, of course, that you don’t behave like a total douchebag.
Recently, a friend of mine went out with another friend of mine. They had a blast together and she decided that he might be worth investing in. The problem? He didn’t want a relationship and didn’t bother letting her know. So later, when she bumped into him at a party with another woman, she felt annoyed and disrespected.
When he asked me, with some confusion, why she was so upset given they’d only been on a few dates, I told him—bastard to bastard—that he was a lousy and messy bastard, then imparted the tenets of the Ethical Bastard, which I relay to you here:
Be clear about your intentions
The object of your attention must be aware that you are not seeking a relationship. This doesn’t necessarily mean sitting the woman down before the first drink and spelling it out for her, but if you’re man enough and do, that’s the best way. Do not assume that your reputation precedes you. By this I don’t mean a bad reputation, I mean a general understanding among members of your social circle that you’re not the relationship kind.
Since I want a partnership where one party looks out for the other as friends do, and there is very little buddy about “fuck buddy,” I avoid that term and put it like this: “I’m not looking for an exclusive relationship. I’m looking for a non-committed, long-term, mutually-beneficial partnership.”
Now, I’m not saying that it’s bad to wish to have a purely physical relationship with someone. If that’s what you want and that’s what she wants, then by all means proceed. However, I should mention that I’ve never met a man who didn’t eventually confess a degree of vexation at the idea that I only kept him around for sex.
It’s human nature. We want to be special. And we should be. Even if our particular brand of special doesn’t involve exclusivity. In any case: The key point here is that the terms of the relationship must be clear to all parties.
If you suspect you need to cloud your intentions because the person you’re pursuing wouldn’t go for you unless you suggested you’d eventually be her man, you: a.) don’t know how to pick your audience, b.) don’t have balls, and c.) should probably stick to getting chicks drunk and taking them home then never calling them again.
Everything has a meaning
You can love a person and never own them, but you have to be careful that the person understands that love and intimacy don’t indicate you’re moving to an exclusive place (unless you decide that’s what you want). To avoid misunderstandings, the best way is to talk about things. If you’re not the “let’s discuss” type, then you’re going to have to watch for togetherness indicators.
You know the togetherness indicator: a walk on the beach at sunset. The “I would love to meet your parents” comment. The introduction to friends. Toothbrush or any other items at your place or hers. Public displays of affection. Photos together on social media.
Essentially, you must conduct yourself like you’re carrying on an illicit affair. The relationship must leave no marks, physical or digital. A tweet is never just a tweet: it’s an acknowledgment of involvement. Make no mistake: marking territory is a togetherness indicator.
Under no circumstances are you to say “I love you,” unless the person on the receiving end understands that “I love you” carries the implication that you will not be owned. Personally, I would never say “I love you,” unless I meant the other person owned me entirely—less confusion given ours is such a tragically vague language. But that’s me.
Behave with respect
I’m hoping I don’t have to tell you that texting, chatting, talking on the phone, etc., with another lover while you’re in the presence of another is inappropriate. Your attention must be undivided. Some say talking about another lover is unacceptable as well, but I find this depends entirely on your level of intimacy and openness. Remember one thing: if you can’t take it, don’t dish it out.
Points of contact:
Just because you’re not exclusive doesn’t mean you are free to ignore calls, texts, e-mails, IMs, direct messages, etc. The person you’re dealing with deserves the sort of respect you’d give any of your friends (and you do, right?).
If she’s saying she wants to see you, but you don’t, just say it’s not possible. And always return in kind and in a timely fashion. That means that if she texts, text back. If she calls, call back. Do not delegate her to a lesser form of contact. That’s a breach of etiquette.
Don’t be a flake. If you have a date, keep it. If you simply can’t, have the courtesy of letting them know. The preferred method for canceling is the phone. Texting or e-mailing to cancel is absolute chickenshit. Grow a pair.
Now, you have other lovers, of course, and she knows. But you must take care that this is never openly displayed. This is precisely why it’s important to watch your social media streams. No matter how aware, no lover wants to see you flirting or posing or—God help me—making out with someone else. Jealousy exists even among the most seasoned polyamorists. Be respectful and keep it off the radar.
Try not to engage people in the same social circle. If you do, be smart. Don’t show up to a party with a lover when there’s a chance another lover will be there. That behavior implies hierarchy (“why her and not me?”), and could prompt jealousy and may result in awkwardness or, worse, a scene. Never allow a scene to unfold.
If you should happen to encounter a lover while out and about, introduce everyone in a professional but warm manner. If you have thus far behaved respectfully to the other lover, the favor should be returned in kind. After the lover departs, remember she is unlikely to refrain from watching you with morbid curiosity, so keep the conversation light with the other lover and make an exit as soon as you can.
Do not feel you must explain or apologize. You’ve made your intentions clear thus far and a good lover will understand that. If she can’t, then she’s not suitable for you and you’ll have to consider terminating your relationship.
It is paramount that you end things on good terms. No one needs a Google bombing that makes your personal site rank first when people look up “douchebag.” Besides, it’s possible you may reconnect in the future, so just be upfront. Call and say you sense she wants more from you than you can give and that it’s best to discontinue the relationship. If you enjoy her company—and I hope you do—you may see her again for lunch or coffee, but avoid sleeping with her.
Be warned, she may make this very difficult. Stand your ground. You shouldn’t sleep with her unless she is comfortable with the fact that she will not be your girlfriend.
OK, so you’re an ethical bastard, right? And you have tons of lovers all around the world. You need never sleep alone unless you wish to do so. Life is grand. Then, something completely absurd happens. You find yourself completely wrapped up in a woman. You have no idea what happened. You try to fight it, but you can’t. You want her all to yourself. Damn it.
Unless you’re with a cuckquean or someone who accepts analogous non-monogamous situations (good luck with that needle in the haystack), chances are that it’s game over. Most of the time, one can’t demand exclusivity without giving it himself—not if he is an ethical bastard, anyway.
So ask yourself this: can you be exclusive? If so, tell your lover you want to update the terms of your relationship. If she’s down, congrats. You’re officially monogamous.
I’ve actually broken up with lovers preemptively—that is, before I told another lover I wanted to commit myself. The way I see it is this: if I’m thinking about someone else while I’m with you, I’m not being fair. No one should play second fiddle to anyone else. Even if the lover I desire doesn’t want to commit to me, I will refrain from other contact until the ground becomes even again.
It eventually does. Lovers are long-term things that look like the double helix—you meet at points and drift at points. But you never lose your connection because you always treat them as fairly as possible.
In a mobile world full of digital nomads, it’s great folly to burn bridges.