For our September Q&A with Dr. Zhana Vrangalova, we’re talking about DADT: Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell types of relationships.
Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell is a type of relationship where the partners agree that they’re going to have other partners, but that they’re not going to talk about it. They don’t want to know about it so they agree not to ask any of those kinds of questions and not to volunteer that kind of information to each other.
Wouldn’t that be considered cheating?
In behavior, there’s not much difference. You have sex with someone else and you don’t tell your partner. The difference is in your partner’s assumptions. In cheating, they think you’re not having sex with anyone else. In Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, they think or know you are and that makes all the difference.
What should you do if you need to know all the details, but your partner is more of an DADT person?
It all comes down to your personal preferences and individual personality. People love sharing this kind of information. They find it difficult not to share this information with their partner. They also enjoy knowing the details.
Other people prefer to keep that information private and they don’t want to hear much about their partner, often because that helps them manage their jealousy. Out of sight, out of mind – they don’t have to think about it and that’s kind of nice and easy. If partners have different preferences, it is necessary to find a compromise.
Usually, it’s a good idea to respect people’s wishes about how much they want to hear. So, if they don’t want to hear anything, don’t tell them anything even though I know you want to share. If they don’t want to hear all the details, you might be able to ask them for the basics.
How do you set it all up?
It is best to have at least one honest, open, and sincere conversation about how you want to set the ground rules. This includes who you can have sex, where you can have it, and how much evidence you will hide. I’ve known couples who set up Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell without much or any conversation and it’s possible, especially if you know each other really well and can keep things separate well. However, the less you discuss and agree on, there’s more room for different assumptions that can explode in your face.
I’m in a DADT relationship now and it works because it’s long distance. I can’t imagine it working if we lived together.
Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell is indeed much easier to pull off if you are long distance or even if you are in the same city, but don’t live together. If you live together, it’s still possible to pull it off, but the most sustainable way to do that is while one or both people are travelling.
Not telling often necessitates lying to “protect” your partner from the truth.
This is true. Sometimes there can be a bruise or a hair, or even a condom wrapper. These things could all require a lie. And that’s why a lot of people find it difficult to do Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, especially when living together. But if you both agree that these little lies are okay to tell to protect each other, then you’re consenting to it.
I can’t do DADT in a close relationship, only casual.
Fair enough and indeed, Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell is easier to do with casual than with more serious partners. It’s also good to know these things about yourself. Not everyone’s going to be a great fit for all relationship types, depending on your personality and circumstances.
Do you think DADT can be a good option for the first stage of opening up your relationships?
Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell can be a good stepping stone on the road to full opening up because it gives partners a chance to dip their toes a little bit in openness without having to do a lot of that emotional labor that comes with knowing your partner is doing the same.
Tips for doing DADT well?
- If you can, set clear boundaries.
- Be casual with other partners
- Do it with people your partner doesn’t know or is unlikely to come in contact with.
- Protect your partner’s sexual health.
Which level of disclosure would work best for you? Join Dr. Zhana’s Monthly Open Smarter Social Virtual event to discuss monogamy and other forms of monogamy.
Zhana Vrangalova is a NYC-based researcher in sex. She studies casual sex and nonmonogamy as well as sexual orientation. She has a PhD in Developmental Psychology, Cornell University. She also teaches Human Sexuality on New York University. She currently writes a book and provides daily sex education via Periscope live streaming.
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