No Half-Assing It With Multiple Partners

Spencer Wharton

I take issue with the way you make open relationships out to be a positive thing. I’m a straight dude who’s been in three open relationships, and all I’ve ever gotten out of them has been misery, regret and nasty breakups. Communication wasn’t the problem––we dialogued everything to DEATH. We established terms upon terms, checked in, read tons of shit online, yadda yadda. In the end, it just never felt okay. I didn’t like the feeling like I was in some sort of contest with her for who could get more action.

-Open Relationships Not Operating Tolerably

Are you sure you really want to be in open relationships?

Believe me, I know that anyone who’s not in a traditional monogamous relationship is sick of that response. Those in non-monogamous relationships are told with tiresome regularity that their relationship troubles are all due to the fact that they’re seeing multiple people. This is an annoying double standard––after all, monogamous couples having issues are never advised to try seeing more people––but in your case, ORNOT, I think it’s important to gauge just how much you want to do this. Making a successful non-monogamous relationship takes effort and dedication.

In a culture inundated with monogamy like ours, adjusting to the framework of an open relationship can be tough. From fairy tales to romantic comedies, we’re told that somewhere out there is “the only one,” the soulmate who will fit us so well we’ll never want anyone else. Our entire model for romance and relationships is built on this “only one” premise, which encourages and justifies jealousy––and this can undermine an open relationship.

If you really want to be in an open relationship, you have to radically change your thinking. This means abandoning the assumption that you’ll be the “only one” for your partner(s) except in ways you expressly agree upon. It also means letting go of the guilty pleasure of justified jealousy. You have to recognize the autonomy of your partner(s) and accept that their sex life and/or romantic life does not necessarily revolve around you, all without allowing that to threaten your relationship. While these are definitely relevant to any relationship, their importance in a traditional monogamous relationship is nowhere near as obvious as it is in any case of non-monogamy. Building these up is definitely doable, but it’s not in any way easy.

Which is why I’m asking you if you really want it. If you want to try to make an open relationship work, start by reflecting on why you’re drawn to the idea. Ask yourself if you can be non-monogamous, but also if you could deal with a partner who was, too. Are you interested enough in non-monogamy that you’re willing to let go of the things I mentioned above? If you’re dedicated to the idea and willing to make it work, even when it gets hard, then go for it. You’re in for a ride. But if in the end, that doesn’t feel “okay,” then perhaps non-monogamy isn’t for you. That’s perfectly fine––there’s no shame in monogamy.

Successful open relationships require you to be honest, self-reflective and committed to the idea. What’s more, it helps immensely to have someone you can trust and work through it all with; you can’t build a very stable open relationship if the foundation is shaky. It’s definitely possible, but as so many of the non-monogamous people I know have confirmed, it’s not something you can half-ass.