You walk into a restaurant with a couple of friends. It’s your weekly Friday night outing and you can’t wait to get a drink. As your trio settles in, you see an attractive man/woman standing at the far end of the bar. Your eyes lock for a couple of seconds longer than a passing glance, and then you look away. A small rush fills your body as you see the honey begin to head in your direction. Your best friend whispers in your ear “Look who's coming over to talk to you!” as you straighten up your posture, suck in your stomach and pray that she’s right. As the beautiful stranger sidles up to you, you instinctively look down at his/herleft hand. “Damn!” you think to yourself as you notice the ring gleaming on that fourth finger. “Married!”
Being the good person that you are, you turn your back on the wannabe cheater and put your attention back on your friends. Right?
According to one study, 1 in 5 long-term relationships begin when one of the partners is already involved with someone else. In the 90s it was called “O.P.P” or “Other People’s Property” by the hip hop group Naughty by Nature. Today evolutionary psychologists use the term “mate poaching” to describe the behavior of luring someone else’s partner into a short-term fling or longer term relationship. As antithetical as it may be to those seeking a loyal partner, research by some sociologists has shown that women tend to be attracted to those already in a relationship. And if the woman lives in a culture that has more sexual equality (such as the U.S. versus Iran, for example) the women are more likely to try and “poach” another’s mate.
Women aren't the only ones out there poaching: the study done by the International Sexuality Description Project found that 62% of men and 40% of women have admitted trying to seduce someone else’s mate for a fling, with 47% of the men and 32% of women admitting that they actually went for it. Given the potential damage to one’s reputation that is possible if one is discovered to be a “mate poacher”, it’s highly likely that the actual number of women poaching going on is significantly higher than what’s being reported. After all, being branded as a “home wrecker” is about as low an insult our society can fling at a woman. I mean, it’ll be a loooong time before Alicia Keys lives down the fact that she “poached” Mashonda’s husband.
We can suck our teeth and roll our eyes at these statistics, but the reality is that if you’re over the age of 30 and are looking to settle down, there’s a significant chance that the person you’re interested in is already married/cohabiting/engaged/dating someone else—especially if you're a Black woman. The brother I like to call “The Holy Grail” of relationships is a rarity: He’s 100% unattached, has either never been married or is perfectly rebounding off of a divorce, is currently celibate and seeking to form a new exclusive relationship with you. And despite the gloom and doom around Black marriage statistics, single brothers are often faced with the reality that the woman they'd like to scoop up has already selected a love of her own.
With that being said, I think the formula is simple: married folks are off-limits. Engaged folks are off -limits. Cohabiting folks are off-limits. Anyone else is (pardon the pun) open game. This may be offensive to those who are in a relationship outside of those categories, but if you aren’t living with someone you are DATING. Dating is what we do when we are getting to know if someone has the potential to become your partner. I say if the commitment is still unofficial, then go for it.
If you’re looking to establish a long-term relationship be forewarned: mate poachers and their willing game tend to rate high on the scale of unreliability. Which makes sense given that the foundation of a relationship that is built on subterfuge and deception is by its’ very nature unstable.
So if you choose to proceed with someone who is already dating someone else keep the drama to a minimum by making sure that he’s made a clean break before he gets involved with you. And you should under no circumstances sleep with him unless you’re certain he is no longer sleeping with someone else and has made a commitment to you. Aside from the real risks to your physical health, there are serious emotional ones as well. One doesn’t need a Ph.D in psychology to know that if someone is willing to sleep with you while still sleeping with their current partner… there’s a high probability that they will be doing a repeat performance at some point.
Sil Lai Abrams is EBONY.com’s Relationship Expert and the author of No More Drama: 9 Simple Steps to Transforming a Breakdown into a Breakthrough and a board member of the National Domestic Violence Hotline. Follow her on Twitter: @sil_lai and connect with her on Facebook. Want Sil Lai's advice? Email SilLai@ebony.com to have your love questions answered in a future column!