Nicole Franklin shares her conversations with couples and experts on the world of Dating While Married.
A recent dinner with a past acquaintance has brought me to a place where I now know a conversation on why-I-even-dressed-up-for-a-dinner-with-a-man-I-had-no-idea-was-married-until-we-were-well-into-dessert is very much needed. I am a 40-something single woman interested in dating single, heterosexual men yet lately I seem to meet more than the usual of those who are Dating While Married (DWM). This DWM label fits quite a few—some of whom I have known for years.
For some men and their partners, this lifestyle is more than acceptable. For me, it is not one with which I wish to participate. It’s just not my cup of tea. I do not wish to pass judgment on others’ relationships as I figure there are enough tea leaves for all. What I would like to propose are a few rules that maybe the more mature crowd—including the grown and sexy set—can adopt for future positive social interactions. I am one who believes monogamy can be fulfilling and successful. I also believe we all deserve to feel we have the power of making a choice. May I suggest that the DWM who approach those of us who are Dating While Single (DWS), try something as simple as honesty? In my research on the topic, having all parties participate in a truthful courtship seems to go a long way. Not sure it will work? Here are some guidelines from conversations with those for whom it has.
1. Decide if a DWM lifestyle is appropriate for you and your partner, or just you./span>
Rakhem Seku and his wife Hakashamut Kenya K Stevens are the founders of JujuMama, LLC, a progressive love movement with workshops and a support network for progressive relating. Seku says, “Marriage is a great club to belong to say ‘I’m married’ and flash the ring.” He says he meets many men whose “intention is to be exclusive, but it’s not working for them. They may be losing their libido or desire for life.” But he also points out a number of reports that 70% of divorces are initiated by women. To Seku, “Traditional relating is just not matching up. That’s an abnormal cocktail. Some men look elsewhere in order to feel like they’re not dying. They want to reproduce what they felt when they first met their wife. For them, the solution is needs met but without letting the wife know.” Seku suggests both parties practice being open. That is, “free and open to date other people, and connect organically.” According to Seku the best approach is when authenticity is key.
Dr. Jeff Menzise, Doctor of Clinical Psychology and couples coach, is often referred and requested as a neutral party-mediator between couples considering opening up their relationship as a form of enhancement. For instance, if a female seeks advice for an infidelity issue, as an alternative to leaving she may suggest open relating as a form of taking control. She may feel in this scenario this would take care of her mate “sneaking around and creeping.” Menzise feels he is pretty keen on which couple is ready in that said couple presents a solid foundation. “If I’m reading this guy won’t be able to handle it, or girl won’t be able to, there’s an insecurity there. In that situation, I will totally advise against it.”
When conducting a session with a monogamous couple interested in trying something new, Menzise focuses on self-esteem and self-confidence. He asks, “How do you feel about your ability to give in this relationship? Do you feel like you’re adequate–doing everything you can, carrying the weight where you feel your partner’s satisfied with you?” He finds that the one who is most vocal is the one who initiated the counseling session. “I typically am not incorrect with what I see when it comes to the desire to expand, and the dynamics of relationships to include other people. In situations where people who are monogamous say ‘O.k., we’ll be able to work it out’ and their partner alludes to ‘I know what you’re saying, but I’m going to start seeing other people anyway,’ they typically do not succeed.”
For those who present with a willingness to try open relating, their reasons vary but may often include incompatible sex drives. Menzise says he has seen many situations where one partner feels inadequate in a sense of not being experienced enough or not lasting long enough such as with a wife who may have a higher sex drive. In a number of cases, he shares, the male would then suggest another male become involved with his wife.
He’s not able to satisfy her and he’s literally decided to bring someone else in,” notes Menzise. “She’s allowed to start dating on the side. Most people wouldn’t believe how common a practice this is with a relationship: A man literally finding another to have sex with their wife. But some guys feel they’re providing more pleasure. And seeing someone else pleasuring provides security.”
Seku presents progressive love as being the way to security. “Being progressive is a very empowering stance going against the standard narrative sex relationships. And progressive lovers are very obvious.” He says those who are not ready would not even be willing to consider it, especially males: “Even though they desire that type of freedom, most men are hell-bent against their wives doing it.”
My husband has two long term friends. One he rekindled a relationship with during his proposal to me. Another rekindle was someone he worked with. I’m more social,” says Mys Quiraa, a 34-year-old couples counselor and founder of Sacred Awakenings. She has been with her partner for 14 years. They decided to begin open relating after eight years of ups and downs. “It’s about not having the control over each other,” she says. Yet she is concerned that her husband still dates the same two women whereas she stays active “going through phases” between women and men alike. Mys Quiraa says of her husband, “He’s so hard to please. He’s very picky. Our relationship is really moreso about him wanting me to have fun.” She acknowledges that it makes her feel good, “but it also makes me feel guilty. That’s a common thing in open relating: Guilt for women. Here I am having fun and doing all these things and am I leaving him out?”
There are of course the ménage à trois scenarios as opposed to dating a number of people. “I’ve come to find out a LOT of women are open to being with another woman and having fantasies about another woman,” says Menzise of the marital threesomes. No matter if a partner brings in another man or another woman, according to Menzise if both parties within the couple do not have enough emotional security and strength, the main relationship erodes. One half of the couple may end up with a side relationship. “Which ends up happening a lot,” he says. It is when there is a code both parts of the couple have to adhere to, then the strong bond allows for less of an opportunity for side relationships to take over.
Proponents of the open relationship are apparently secure enough to take an honest approach to satisfying everyone’s needs. Seku acknowledges that deciding to have a relationship based on progressive love is a form of growth a couple has to work through. “It encapsulates all relationship styles– even celibacy.” He explains, “It’s being accountable for your life. There are no victims and no villains in life. There’s no shaming and no blaming in relationships. No copping out and no dropping out of relationships. And if the marital relationship transforms into friendship, that’s fine.” Seku states if the purpose of progressive love is growth, then the benefit is love.
2. If you are DWM and wish to ask someone out on a date, make it clear to the potential date—especially one who is DWS—that you are married and that you and your partner are open relating.
As a woman I like to tell a man who’s interested in me within the first five minutes that I’m married. Men don’t seem to have that same thing,” finds Mys Quiraa. “I think that’s because we know when we want to have sex with someone, we have to decide. But a man has already decided right away he wants to have sex. In his mind, if you’re going to give it to him it doesn’t matter if he’s married or not. So it’s like this: If he’s talking to us, he wants to. But for women we decide if we’re going to.”
Seku agrees that males and females are typically not in sync with their approach. He says, “Females tend to withhold information and males say something in place of the truth.” But when practicing progressive love, “We request that you be open and honest about what you want. Two people are coming together—both with an agenda. Marital status should be discussed out of the gate and sometimes that’s not verbalized.”
I’m open,” declares Mys Quiraa. She says if she is out on a date her intentions are clear: “I came here to be with you because I’m attracted to you. We can open up that gate for being more honest. We’re not teenagers. This is not ‘Let me lie to you so I can just stick it in really quick.’ We’re adults.” What she feels she comes up against quite frequently in meeting a DWS is a world that preaches monogamy as the ideal option. To that she responds, “I think I’m really combative to the world. I tend to do a lot a teaching and most of it is unwarranted (she laughs). We lie to each other because we lie to ourselves.
If we want a man to be more upfront, we can come out being more upfront as well.”
Mys Quiraa feels authenticity may also get things moving along much quicker—especially when it comes to women making a decision about intimacy. “If men can be more honest about what they wanted with the women they choose, we can be willing to do you want within the first five minutes.”
But honesty extends beyond whether or not marital status is revealed. This leads to…
3. If a DWS chooses to be involved with a DWM, it is not an opportunity for the DWS to change the DWM who is open relating to a DWM who will be monogamous.
Mys Quiraa recalls, “I had met this man and he was really handsome. I met him and I knew I was going to sleep with him, so I say to him ‘Hi. I’m married. I’m in an open marriage if you’re interested.’ We exchange numbers. He tells me he’s a single dad, raising three boys on his own.” But after a couple of weeks of suspicious phone behavior, Mys Quiraa discovered he was actually married. And when she confronted him about it he said he was unhappy in his relationship. She recognized this right away as a man who was “still searching for the one.” She says, “I’m open, and I am going to stay married. He’s trying to leave one relationship to come to me, and leaving a relationship because he’s not happy.” For him to lie and test the waters, she feels, he was living “under fear. Things aren’t going well, let me try something over here.” Dating a married man who is not truly open is a deal breaker in her situation because she recognizes he may not ever grasp the concept that she is just interested in the sex, not “interviewing for a husband.”
Dr. Menzise finds that for a man, “He could be in an open relationship, but feels by being upfront it could run people away.” But he has to rid himself of that fear because ultimately the honesty has to be there. “Otherwise you just got people pimping,” he says, “which is equally unhealthy. It just gives people excuses to do certain things. There’s no judgment. Respect, basic honesty, love and trust….there have to be certain standards.”
Take for instance the DWS woman who chooses to become involved with a man who is DWM. Menzise says she has to acknowledge whether she is the side chick or are they making it more official if the man is open relating. Menzise has seen cases where the woman decides to opt out because “the side chick will feel that’s morally wrong and avoid that (being a part of something that is not discreet) at all cost.”
Couples who respect the wishes of all parties and are truly involved in open relating should be able to come to each other after the experience and be open in their discussion with each other of their sexuality, desires and fantasies. “And after said experience,” says Menzise, “a couple should be able to talk about it not as if ‘did you like him or her better than me’ but as ‘it was exciting to me to see you that aroused.’”
4. Sex. The DWM and the DWS must discuss the extent of the intimacy before becoming intimate.
Though it does seem very unsexy for details of how the sex will be handled to be discussed upfront, Seku says this is the conversation that should be had during the first meeting “say over dinner. There may be hours before intimacy at that point.” The conversation must cover whatever people feel comfortable with in terms of safety. “Condoms are not the only way to do things. There are different methods of birth control and there could also be a nonsexual agreement.” If there is a sexual agreement and a pregnancy outside of the marriage occurs, what then? Seku says, “My general rule is in order to have a child, you need a yes-yes.” Nature happens, regardless, but in the progressive love experience there is an overall acceptance for each other. The desire to have and not have a child included. According to Seku, “When a potential partner shows up in a certain way, that’s who he or she is.” Both parties have to be very honest with themselves on whether they can handle a relationship consistent with their partner’s wishes and standing by their own.
And for a busy couple such as Seku and his wife, when is there time for sex? He says, “Sometimes there is no time for your one partner. I was in a situation at work for a while when I was traveling more often. Sometimes there’s an abundance of time. And when there’s a like-minded community around you, it is very easy to connect on that level.” As he points out, “If you have time for a hobby or say ‘going out with the girls,’ then you have time to relate to somebody.”
5. If conducted appropriately, DWM relationships do not end in breakups, but as friends.
Sekou simply states, “We don’t believe relationships actually end. They do transition. Both people feel it. You know when things are different in a relationship and it’s time to take a break.” He admits that there’s “nothing easy” about any relationship but it is best to come to each other and respect each other in an honest way. “Relationships are not easy to start, maintain, grow and transition, but they’re beautiful at all stages.”
6. Children of DWM and their right to know may be a part of the relationship’s success.
“The children factor is difficult,” admits Mys Quiraa. “We don’t yet have the tools in progressive love. It would’ve been nice to have had them eight years ago.” Mys Quiraa and her husband essentially have two sets of offspring in this manner, as they have two teenagers from earlier in their relationship and two younger ones now. “When the kids are younger, you can talk to them differently. They know, ‘This is Mommy’s friend Fred,’ and they’re able to blend what they are seeing at home to what they’re learning in society.” She finds the “outside world of monogamy” has influenced the older children to make comments such as “Oh Mom, Dad’s cheating.” She tells them, “Dad can’t cheat.”
For Seku, the situation may sound familiar. He feels, “Children usually do the opposite of their parents.” He finds his daughter is comfortable entering a more traditional style of monogamous dating. “I expect the experience (of living with parents in a progressive relationship) to help her in her monogamous relationship. And if it transitions, it feels o.k. I want her to feel she has a choice in life and to create a life she wants, creating a partner she desires. For children, what’s their sense of empowerment?”
For some, it may still take a while for some older children to adjust and accept their parents as more than “Oh my God. You’re so weird.” Mys Quiraa: “My older children believe—because they are told outside of the house—sex outside is bad, cheating is bad, sex outside of marriage is bad…. They’re not interested in opening. We, as parents, look like we’re rebelling.” But more importantly she wants all four children to know open relating is not a religion. It’s a lifestyle. “I don’t care if they choose to be open or monogamous. I want them to choose whatever’s going to make them happy. Not to be in relationships just out of righteousness.”
Menzise points out that some families may consider the situation of various “aunts” and “uncles” in the home as beneficial to the children since the common thought is it takes a village. He says this is fine “as long as the adults are healthy.”
There are many more guideposts along this road of open relating. As more couples are exploring they soon realize their situation is nothing new. “When you saw Free Love in the 60s, that was a form of it,” says Seku. “‘Sex and connection on my terms.’ And ‘Hey don’t judge me.’ It is a natural evolving thing.”
I am very happy in my marriage and truly enjoy spending time with my wife,” says Chuck Oliva, my happily married friend who does not dismiss these alternative choices, but is thoroughly satisfied with his own. “But therein lies the rub: not all men have (or foster) this type of relationship with their wives. The kind of relationship that I have with Patty is the kind of relationship that I need from a woman. And that’s not to imply that the relationship is of my own creation – that Patty stood idly by while I created the parameters of our relationship. We built this relationship together, but it happens to be the type of relationship that I need to have: fun, honest, sharing, etc. This creates an environment where I am decidedly less likely to have the inclination to cheat.” Oliva notes that “fairly constant exposure to each other” also does not provide too many opportunities for either one of them to stray. “That’s okay,” he says. “I am spending time with the person whose company I most enjoy.”
Oliva speaks naturally about what makes his monogamous marriage work. It resembles what many strive for when they still seek out “the one.” Oliva says, “I think that it is important to truly enjoy each other and really be each other’s person. That second thing I think is huge. If your spouse isn’t your go-to person then there is a tragic flaw in the relationship that will probably only become exacerbated with time. Soon, someone else will become your person and your wife will just be there day after day reminding you that you are running out the clock in a stifling arrangement.” He adds, “It’s important to share, if not interests, at least rhythms. That you enjoy the same types of activities. That you both get up early (or late). That you are on the same schedule. That you go to bed together. Laugh at the same things. Have dozens of little moments each day that are your own.”
Too restricting? It may be for some, but a relief for others. Regardless, Menzise still notes that a couple’s love has to be rooted in a solid foundation. “A solid foundation of a house allows you to add on, enhance the property, and build another floor.”
Photo: Flickr/Nina Matthews Photography