closed to open.

Reader G. M. writes:

You’ve talked about trying to take an open relationship to the exclusive level. What about going the other way — making a monogamous relationship open?

Dear G.M.:

I have found that there are very few people in the world who can sustain an open relationship, even when the relationship starts out that way. It is much, much, MUCH easier to go from open to closed if both parties are willing, probably because the rules are simpler (don’t sleep with anyone else). And generally, if someone says, “I think I want to see other people,” what they mean is, “I don’t want to see you anymore.”

open this relationship

Let's open this relationship, shall we? Image: jscreationzs / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

It’s possible that you and your significant other are both actually polyamorous, as well as mature, strong, and open-minded enough to pursue an open relationship, even after months or years of being exclusive with each other. But I kind of doubt it. “Monogamy” is “normal”, and most people strive towards it, whether it’s actually natural to them or not. Not only is being in an open relationship hard for a couple to do; it can also be hard for a community to support. Culturally our society upholds monogamy as the highest form of sexuality (in spite of the fact that very few people really practice it, even if they say they do) and while there are communities out there that will support open relationships, they are difficult to find, especially outside of large cities. So even if you and your partner are polyamorous, finding other partners who want to engage in that behavior with you may be very difficult to find.

If you and your partner both don’t have a lot of sexual experience under your belts already, I would definitely not recommend undertaking a switchover like this. Most of the time, it’s not going to be a mutual feeling anyway. There’s nothing quite like having the person you think you’re in love with tell you that they think it’d be awesome to sleep with other people. Speaking of, are you ready for your SO to feel that way? If not, then no, you’re not ready for an open relationship.

I think you really have to know yourself and your partner in this situation, and ask yourself a few questions about the relationship. Are you just running a relationship based on emotional inertia? Do you need to split up, really? Sometimes, even if the person you’re dating is wonderful, they’re not wonderful for you. It’s obviously easier to break up with someone who is terrible than someone who is just not right for you. Does “I want to see other people” mean “I want to break up and move on and find someone new”, or does it mean “I want to expand our sexual relationship together”? Those are two very different things.

But if you really honestly think that you and your significant other can handle seeing each other while seeing other people, then I have a few tips:

Talk. A lot. All the time. About everything. If you are really going to stay committed to each other while you see other people, this is absolutely necessary. In fact, half your talks might be fights, especially in the beginning. There will be jealousy, there will be feelings of betrayal, there will be everything else that could possibly go wrong. If you’re going to make it work, this is how it’s going to be.

Establish rules early. Even polyamorous people can “cheat” on each other, I’m sorry to say. There are rules to polyamory that change from couple to couple, and it is never (or at least very rarely) a free-for-all. You guys both have to agree on just how “open” your open relationship is, and what that entails. Decide what the rules are before you go out and see other people.

Be ready to change. I recommend this in every relationship, but it is impossible to maintain an open relationship without it: realize that there is nothing solid anywhere in the universe, and your relationship is going to change. Renew your partnership daily. Check your feelings hourly. Understand that your partner is going to change, too. It’s obvious in our physical natures — our cells renew themselves over time, so why wouldn’t your feelings and emotions do the same? Embrace the change, prepare for the change, and make the change happen as necessary.

Find a support group. They do exist! Albeit not in the places where “normal” support groups hang out (like church). But there are definitely polyamorous groups and swingers clubs all over the country. Search them out on Facebook or MySpace. The friendships you make can help in terms of advice and in terms of finding people who will participate in your new lifestyle without condemning it.

Be honest with yourself. If what you really want is to find a monogamous relationship with someone else, quit being a coward and end the relationship you’re in. I certainly won’t judge you for it.


1 Response to “closed to open.”

  1. 1 richard
    November 20, 2010 at 11:34 am

    Great advice, as usual.

    Another important thing is to never ever confuse polyamory or open relationships with having an open mind. Open mindedness is about accepting people for who they are – and especially accepting yourself for who you are. If you aren’t polyamorous, don’t force yourself into the mold. More properly, since you only figure out your x-amory by experimenting be prepared to accept that x=1. Don’t be polyamorous just to prove how open minded, evolved, or cool you are. It’ll only confirm you as a drama whore.

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