When it comes to the logistics of open relationships, I have to admit that I'm as ignorant as a person who would skip Beyoncé's performance at Coachella. I've never been in an open relationship, and as a jealous Scorpio, I couldn't handle one. That said, I love that people are approaching relationships with open minds, as I find the notion that human beings are meant to be monogamous highly unlikely. So if you're like me, and your partner wants an open relationship and you don't, what are you to do?
If I were the ideal version of myself — a calm, understanding, regular flosser — I would hope that if my partner brought up an open relationship, I would at least try to understand where they were coming from. In the same way that I would hope they would understand my anxiety around the notion. However, I have a feeling I would be furious.
Dating coach, Shaina Singh, LCSW, explains that when a partner brings up an open relationship, "one might vacillate between feeling angry, sad, experience a sense of loss, inadequacy, [and a] loss of security in a relationship. A good place to start with those emotions is to sit with them and really explore where do they come from." Monogamy is a societal construct, and your partner asking to open your relationship up does not necessarily mean that you're not enough, or that they want to "diet cheat" on you.
Effy Blue, a relationship coach specializing in open relationships, offers additional advice for those wary of a partner suggesting polyamory or an open relationship. "Don't panic. This does not necessarily mean the end of your relationship." Again, "the chances are this is not about you but your partner's wiring," explains Blue. "When you are ready and able to listen with a generous ear, ask your partner why they are drawn to an open relationship."
However, being openminded does not mean that you need to"'give-in,' or do it because you feel like you have no other option," says Singh. Additionally, it's good to sort out what your partner means by an open relationship. "Do they want to have occasional flings or nurture long-term connections?" asks Blue. "Share how you feel about it from your point of view using I-sentences."
Blue adds that it's important to decide for yourself if you are actually OK with an open relationship, and that you should only enter one if you can enter it with integrity. All of this said, it's hard to say goodbye to a person you love, and it can be tempting to give the open relationship a try, even if you don't think it's for you.
To gain some real world perspective, I spoke to Dana Schwartz, author of the forthcoming memoir Choose Your Own Disaster and woman who has been in this exact situation. Well, almost, because Schwartz knew her former partner wanted an open relationship from the get-go.
"He let me know on our first date that he was polyamorous, and that monogamy wasn’t a thing he was open to," says Schwartz. "Being young, and stupid, I had sort of taken it as a challenge. I didn’t see myself as a competitive or jealous person, but looking back, I fully envisioned a scenario in which he would fall so madly in love with me that he would forsake all others."
I completely get this. There have been many times in my life where I knew a man I was dating was moving away soon, or "not looking for a relationship." Sometimes, I knew these things from the very first date. Hot tip for all of us dating in the world: believe a person when they tell you what they are looking for up front. Especially if it's vague or in the realm of "nothing serious." They're telling the truth.
But I digress, back to our story: "He ended up breaking up with (shocker) because I was getting too 'relationship-y,'" explains Schwartz. "While we were dating, I had joked about him being poly, and I had never gotten upset about him being with other people, but I think we both knew it bothered me."
I think this speaks to knowing your personality, and then really being honest with yourself and your partner about whether you want to be in an open relationship. "My advice is to always be fully honest with your partner about your feelings," says Schwartz. "But more importantly, be honest with yourself. Trying to be a 'Cool Girl' who’s open to non-monogamy isn’t a valid relationship strategy if it’s going to break your heart."
Trying to be a 'Cool Girl' who’s open to non-monogamy isn’t a valid relationship strategy if it’s going to break your heart.
Ah-ha! Exactly what my therapist tells me when I try to justify why a guy hasn't committed after six months and no declarations of monogamy because "he has a lot on his plate at work right now."
If you're open to open relationships, give it a go. If you're not, don't force it. And if you try polyamory out and find yourself unhappy or jealous? Tell your partner. Being in a relationship should feel easy, not like torture. And if you're anything like me, imagining the bed linens and fancy nighties of every woman you see Facebook friend your partner is straight-up torture. Your relationship should work for you and your partner — and if you're not able to reach a compromise that suits both of you, it might be time to walk away.