flying the freak flag

Reader S. E. writes:

I’m a polyamorous bisexual who is part of a few S&M and swingers groups in my hometown, but I’m not out at work or with my family. I’ve started trying online dating recently, and I’m wondering just how far I should let my freak flag fly on these kinds of sites?

Dear S.E.:

Blank for now

Keep the flag blank til they need to know otherwise. Image: Rawich / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

While online dating is generally totally anonymous — you don’t use your real name on the site, and smart people don’t use a name that could be tracked back to their email address, etc., — your pictures are up there, and anyone with access to the site can see them. In a huge town like New York or LA, this is no big deal — there are literally hundreds of thousands of people on the site and people who know you have a slim chance of finding you without searching for your exact name.

However, in a town like, say, Albuquerque, things are a bit different. There aren’t that many people in the town to begin with, and the few who are on dating sites are very likely people you live and work with (if you happen to live and work with single young professionals, especially). And there’s a pretty good chance they’ll see your pictures and your information before you even know they’ve clicked through.

If you’re not out to those people, they could have quite a surprise waiting for them online. And so could you.

The fact that you’re not really open about your sexual orientation or preferences at work or in your family life may be a tip that this is something you should keep somewhat private on the dating site, but be prepared to discuss it early in the relationship. Don’t fly the flag on your dating profile, but pack it along on your date.

On the other hand, it sucks to get on a first date and have them spring something like that on you. (Worse if it’s a second or third date and you’re starting to get attached.) While most people probably can’t even qualify their sexual preferences, people who are poly and bi tend to know a bit better than anyone else, so you already know what you want, and if the other person can’t provide it, it’d be nice to know that from the get-go. I’m pretty sure a monogamous, straight-only person would probably want to know the same about you before jumping in, too.

Yes, it’s true that online dating sites are supposed to weed out the people who don’t fit your criteria so you never even see them (and they don’t see you). But in small(er) towns, and on small sites, that tends not to be the case.  You’ll see people who don’t even come close to having the same interests as you (sexually, artistically, or even professionally), but someone’s gotta’ fill up that space on your page, so here they are. And of course, they’re seeing you, too. So in this scenario, you’re basically outing yourself (and all your fun preferences) to people you have a great likelihood of running into on the street even if you don’t agree to meet beforehand.

Sexual preference is something between you and whatever partner(s) you choose to have, not strangers on a dating website who can leak your secrets to your professional world. If it’s at all a concern to you, I say keep it under wraps until you meet someone who, you know, needs to know.

Also, there are online dating sites that cater to swingers, S&M, and polyamorous people. Just by being on those sites you’d be flying the freak flag to a group of people who fly the same flag, so that covers all those bases. Again, those sites are going to cater to a very small group of people in smaller towns, and to some extent they’ll probably be the people you already know, but at least you don’t have to explain who you are (or aren’t) to a complete stranger every single time you meet up.


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