So you think you want an open relationship? Trust me, it’s not without peril.
“I know you have sex,” I told him, “but I’m not ready. If you need to have sex with people to ward off the blue balls, you go right ahead. But do not pressure me for sex, or I’ll dump you.”
He said OK. “I know you’re cute and you go to a nerdy school with nerdy boys who’ll probably like you. If you want to date them, you can have “school boyfriends.” But when I want to be with you, you have to ditch them, and I’ll do the same for you.”
We’re the couple, we agreed. Everyone else was just for fun.
Thus began my first open relationship. I was 14.
I’ve always been very appreciative that my first boyfriend didn’t force the issue of monogamy. We were kids, after all, and kids need to date around.
As an adult, I’ve only dated one guy who agreed to an open relationship, and guess what? It was amazing. We respected one another, it was fun, and we parted as friends.
Why am I pro–open relationship? Well, I see it this way: If you have three kids, no one ever says, “Pick one.”
In every other facet of our lives we don’t have to choose one thing. So why do we have to when it comes to romantic relationships?
An open relationship signifies that you realize, “Just because I can doesn’t mean I will.” Heck, I can smoke cigarettes if I want to, but I don’t want to. Likewise, just because I have the right to date around, doesn’t mean I ever will. (And guess what? If we agree to monogamy and I don’t want to be monogamous—I won’t!)
An open relationship is the embodiment of one of my favorite Jay-Z lines: “You could be anywhere else in the world, but you’re here with me. And I appreciate that.”
In an open relationship, there’s an undeniable appreciation from both parties for the time spent with each other, because you really know they could choose otherwise.
In both of my experiences, I felt more trusted and more honest with my partner than in any other relationship: I had more trust for the person and I received more trust. I felt genuinely liked, rather than possessed.
Don’t write me off just yet, ye of monogamous ways.
I was recently commending a friend who’s always been in open relationships. And he quickly told me to hold the applause. Open relationships are definitely not without problems, o much so that even he—a true believer—had to face some hard truths.
He said that my pithy concept of open-relationship bliss is easy to defend now because it lives in my head, along with a million other hypotheticals. But, I won’t know for sure until I put my heart into it.
He said that his setup was all good until (1) she got a partner, and (2) he fell in love.
All of a sudden, there was a disconnect between what he believed in his mind and what he felt in his heart. And this was perhaps exasperated by the fact that his girlfriend required open communication about their “extracurricular activities.”
So he had to sit there and listen to the woman he loved give him the play-by-play of her latest sexcapades. Not quite what he signed up for.
Yep, it was all fun and games until she activated her player’s card and his heart got involved.
So where is he now on the topic? Well, he still believes in open relationships conceptually, but if he engages in another one—and he doesn’t necessarily want to—it will be “don’t ask, don’t tell.”
As for me, I do believe every relationship is different, so you have to set the ground rules. Like in my case, we agreed that we were an item—that we were the priority and we both respected that, so it worked—and I was not in love in either case. If you do engage in an open relationship, the key is to be true to your capacity to handle it. Maybe you feel better communicating everything you do, then if your partner does too—you’re golden. If you’re more of a “don’t ask, don’t tell,” make sure your partner is as well.
At the end of the day, whether you’re in a monogamous relationship or an open relationship, what makes any relationship work is being honest about what you need and making sure that your needs and your partner’s needs are aligned.