Being In An Open Marriage Is A Lot Like Being On Fire

Being in an open marriage is a lot like being on fire, insofar as everybody who finds out about it immediately feels the need to tell you you’re in grave danger. The assumption is generally that you have no idea what you’re doing, that you haven’t really thought about the implications (“What about kids? STDs? Jealousy?”), and that the life you’ve been living for the past 8 ½ years must be incredibly stressful, constantly unraveling, and/or taking a brutal toll on your self-esteem.

I recently listened to an interview I did for a podcast on this very topic. As the host rattled off her questions, which seem to be everybody’s questions, I came to realize that the openness of my relationship with my husband isn’t just a good thing; it’s also not really a source of stress or conflict in our lives. We obviously have our problems, like our divergent planning styles or our different ways of managing money. But we don’t hash out the details of hooking up with other people with any real regularity. It’s like if somebody were to ask, “What about the laundry? Do you do the laundry? Does he ever do the laundry? What if he does the laundry in a way you don’t like? What if you come home and find him doing the laundry when you didn’t know he was going to be doing the laundry? Do you fight about laundry? Have you ever thought about stopping doing laundry altogether, like when you have kids?” Um. No. No, it’s not really a problem. It’s not like that.

Here’s what it is like: I’m married to and live with my best friend. We cook for one another, laugh hysterically together, and have tons of sex, the vast majority of which involves just we two. Occasionally, one or both of us might make out with or even go to bed with somebody else. When this happens, communication is clear, standard precautions are taken (you know, like the ones single people use), and a good time is generally had by all. I have no doubt that we are committed to each other, because we’re building a life together. Could he fall in love with somebody else? Sure, but our non-monogamous status doesn’t have much of an effect on that fact. He could also decide to run away and join the circus. There are no guarantees in life.

I think the most bizarre thing about monogamy to me is how often sexual exclusivity serves as a proxy for a real commitment. “Yeah, we’re together, I guess, because I’m not doing it with anybody else.” And the illusion that a monogamous commitment somehow makes a relationship more secure seems upended by the disruptive, obsessive, guilt-ridden emotions a monogamous person feels when he or she is (inevitably) attracted to somebody other than his or her partner.

My tone tends to be somber and straightforward when I talk about this topic, mostly because I don’t want to sound like I’m sensationalizing it. (Even though it’s the fu-king best. Seriously.) I’ve spoken to close friends who are sure monogamy is right for them, and I’m convinced they can pull it off, that they know what they’re doing. But most people I talk to fear non-monogamy because they’re afraid of their own insecurity, their own jealousy. And in truth there’s a pretty strong non-attachment practice built into it. In all the ways society tells me I’m supposed to own my husband, the fact is I simply do not. Does it always feel super easy? No. But it always feels true.

I’m a huge fan of the Sex and the City television series. The movies, not so much. But I always think about the second film (“Samantha Rides a Camel,” as my husband and James Wolcott both call it) and how it deals with marital non-monogamy the same way I Love Lucy deals with women working outside the home. The idea gets raised, some blundering version thereof ensues, and in the end everybody’s happy and relieved to return to the status quo. Phew! That was close! We almost had to question our assumptions and jettison a system that doesn’t work for everyone, but in the end we all chose to be normal instead! I’m sure glad that’s over!

Based on all of the casual ignorance I absorb from people who know about my relationship, I can understand why a lot of people who are in open or non-monogamous relationships remain closeted about it. But I was raised in a closeted gay household; I wasn’t allowed to talk about my mother’s relationship to her female partner with anyone. As a result of that, I’m very anti-closet in my own life, and I believe that being open and honest is the best way to challenge negative stereotypes of unconventional marriages like mine.

I met my husband when I was 22. If I felt at the time that I would have to spend the rest of my life having sex with him and only him, I wouldn’t have married him. I would’ve gone out into the world and gallivanted around until I felt like all the sex was out of my system, and I would’ve missed out on sharing my life with the best human being on planet Earth. But in our relationship, we don’t have to get anything out of our systems. Our sex drives are allowed to stick around, to accompany us throughout life, to remain a part of our individual personalities as well as our relationship as a couple. So in that way, I guess we are on fire. But please, don’t assume that we need to be doused. TC mark

image – Loco Steve

More From Thought Catalog

  • Guest

    Isn’t sleeping with someone who is not your wife/husband when you’re legally married, ILLEGAL?

    I’m sure you will brush off my opinion, and this comment, I’m sure you are very used to it by now.  But being in an open marriage is a JOKE.

    Open “relationshiop”, MAYBE.  Open marriage?  Please.  Good luck!

    • Kelly Burgess

      No.  It is not illegal.

      • Guest

        In the United States, laws vary from state to state. In those states where adultery is still on the statute book (although rarely prosecuted), penalties vary from life sentence (Michigan),[44] to a fine of $10 (Maryland), to a Class B misdemeanor (New York),[45] to a Class I felony (Wisconsin).

    • Polly Ester

      hahahaaahaa

      good joke

    • Guest

      No, it most certainly is not illegal.

    • Kori

      Weeooo weeooo here comes the sex police! You there! What are you doing with this stranger?! Get back in your marriage bed like a good little wife!

    • http://christophermluna.com Christopher Michael Luna

      If legality was a sound benchmark for what was viable, just, or ethical, we’d all be fucked.

    • Lucianne

      I don’t see how you could call it a “joke”. Both parties understand the positives and negatives of their choices. If the writer and her husband can live happily in an open marriage for eight and a half years, don’t you think that they would have realized by now “oh, this is a bad idea, we should PROBABLY stop doing this”? Open your mind a bit, these things are possible.

    • JEReich

      You’re confusing polyamory with polygamy.  Get your terms straight.

    • Sadiemae1967

      No, it’s not illegal. Where did you get that idea?  Is there a civil or criminal statute you saw?  marriage is a contract.  If you have a pre-nup, there is a breach of that contract, perhaps… but nothing illegal (absent a statute) about open marriage.  Most divorces are now called “no fault”. Adultery may be grounds for divorce in some states, but it is not a crime.

      • sadiemae1967

        so, it seems like 4 states or so have some punitive statute on the books. I doubt they are prosecuted very often.

    • http://twitter.com/KinchKinski Kinch Kinski

      ha ha ha. ……I want to respond more articulately but……. BA HA HA HA HA HA!

  • Mila Jaroniec

    “I think the most bizarre thing about monogamy to me is how often sexual
    exclusivity serves as a proxy for a real commitment. “Yeah, we’re
    together, I guess, because I’m not doing it with anybody else.” And the
    illusion that a monogamous commitment somehow makes a relationship more
    secure seems upended by the disruptive, obsessive, guilt-ridden emotions
    a monogamous person feels when he or she is (inevitably) attracted to
    somebody other than his or her partner.”

    This is a fantastic point. And while non-monogamous relationships may not be for everyone, they are still valid relationships, which is something lots of people have trouble wrapping their minds around. Thanks for writing this piece Erin!

    -cue onslaught of vicious self-righteous comments-

  • Curious Anon

    I guess my question is… how do you handle the logistics? Are there any rules? I’d love to try it, but while my husband has had no issue having sex be just that in the past, I find myself usually at least a bit emotionally invested in people I am attracted to. I don’t see how it could ever be a level playing field.

    • http://christophermluna.com Christopher Michael Luna

      There are lots of ways that people navigate polyamorous relationships, and not all of them necessarily grant emotional primacy to a single person. Some do grant that primacy to a single person, and then allow for “secondary,” but still emotional relationships. Others don’t have recurring relationships with anyone except their primary, but still have an emotional component to the sex that they have outside the primary relationship.

      The idea of polyamory isn’t always (or perhaps even often) that sex, on its own, is meaningless or devoid of emotion, but rather that the emotional content of a relationship doesn’t need to be contingent on exclusivity. For example, just because I might develop feelings for someone else doesn’t mean that somehow my feelings for my wife are degraded, depleted, or lessened.

      Polyarmory isn’t, from my perspective, about detaching sex from emotion. It’s about accepting a more complicated interaction between those two things, understanding where culture has possibly built walls that I don’t like, and lovingly disassembling those walls with the people I care about.

      • Curious Anon

        Wonderfully said, and I definitely thank you for the insight. From the looks of it you are speaking firsthand and I respect anyone who can accept a very real fact of life and embrace it this way. My relationship is wonderful and fulfilling and it would be a shame for it to end because of something so trivial as “cheating” (which carries with it feelings of deceit and betrayal) brought on by normal human urges, but by the same token I fear taking the step into non-exclusivity could very well ruin everything. I don’t think anyone, even in the most mature relationship, knows how they will react until after the fact.

      • http://christophermluna.com Christopher Michael Luna

        I think you’re right that no one knows what will happen in a relationship until after the fact. People are complicated things. It is good to remind ourselves, though, that our reactions to things are often cultivated, and they don’t just happen to us. Our will has some kind of a participatory role to play in our reactions.

  • Guest

    The fact is we have no idea whether this actually “worked out” or not.  Maybe we never could know.  The author would have to report back when they are 75 and retired, still happily married.  And if they weren’t still married, how would we know whether it was the monogamy issue or any other slew of issues that caused the separation?

    Polyamory may work for them, FOR NOW.

    • http://christophermluna.com Christopher Michael Luna

      Right, but you could say the same thing about any relationship. You could, for example, say that monogamy is just a fucked-up institution, and it only works when people sacrifice something important of themselves, or when people cheat (lots and lots of people do).

      You could say that, but it wouldn’t be any more legitimate than claiming by fiat that polyamorous relationships are messed up.

      I think the take-away is more along the lines of “Maybe we never could know.” And maybe even if we knew for this couple, we wouldn’t know if it could work for anyone else. And maybe relationships are complicated things and they never quite “work out” the way we imagine them when we start.

    • Erin Judge

      I just put this on my Google calendar for April 18, 2055: “Report back to Thought Catalog comment thread about overall success of marriage.”

      • Nishant

        By that time, it’s going to be Google Catalog you know. :P

      • Hry

        That, or Thoughtbook.

      • Guest

        You missed my point, or ignored it, Erin.  You cannot possibly say this situation works long term, you can only say it has worked for you up until this point.  If and when it no longer works anymore, does that mean it ever did work?

      • http://twitter.com/rachelisasmith Rachel N. Smith

        so if anyone EVER gets divorced, does that just go to show that monogamy hasn’t worked up until that point? No?

      • http://christophermluna.com Christopher Michael Luna

        This is why we shouldn’t gamble on unorthodox life choices until time travel is developed. That way we can leap forward in time, make sure everything works out, and then jump back. What a waste of life it would be to attempt to push boundaries that cultural norms have set for us only to find out that something could go wrong along the way!

      • Erin Judge

        I feel like this is stating the obvious, but like others have said, standard marriage hasn’t really shown itself to be a fool-proof formula that always or even usually works out in long term. I was asked to write this piece for Thought Catalog, and I’m often asked to talk about this topic, but the point I’m trying to make here is that it’s not the central theme or conflict of my marriage.  We don’t fight or worry about this stuff, althought the assumption seems to be it taxes us as a couple constantly. That couldn’t be farther from the truth. If anything, it strengthens my marriage to know we truly see eye to eye on this matter.

    • deebeazy

       If 50+ years of marriage is your idea of something “working out” – I hate to break it to you, but: most marriages don’t live up to that standard.

      • Max

        thats not true though, divorce rates are about 40%, so most marriages do work out according to that definition. 
        Also, the author seems to think that monogamy would not make her relationship more secure than polygamy does, but thats not really true either. Lots of studies have shown that sex does increase your attachment to someone, so polygamy should make their relationship less secure, as chances are higher that one partner will become attached to someone else they slept with.

      • http://christophermluna.com Christopher Michael Luna

        This is only meant to be half tongue-in-cheek, but since when has anyone developed a tool for measuring “attachment,” and is there any rigorous scientific link between “attachment” and a secure relationship?

        I mean, not to put too fine a point on it, but given the increasing authority that They Who Do Lots of Studies are given in popular discourse, along with the open access movement, it might be wise to cite Them and Their Many Studies so that interested parties who don’t want to just sign up to a vague scientific-sounding authority that confirms whatever they already believe can download a PDF, and check out Their Studies for ourselves. You know, see how They define “attachment,” how They measured it, see who They sampled, etc.

      • Anonymous

        I’m not in hiding about my relationship, but I rarely talk about it, because of the stigma. It is something much like polyamory. In fact, that may be the closest term that describes it. Anyway, I wanted to respond to this. Even if studies legitimately proved that sex does increase your attachment to someone, it doesn’t mean that you will lose some of the attachment you have to your primary partner. It’s like having kids. Sure, giving birth to a child, can have the tendency of leading to feelings of love for that child. However, if you have another child, your feelings for the first one don’t go away. Our hearts are big enough to love more than one person at a time.

        Feeling attached to a secondary partner/lover/relationship isn’t necessarily a problem for every primary. My husband cares for anyone who is special to me. Likewise, if someone was important to him, then I certainly don’t want to do anything to needlessly cause that person pain. Our hearts are big enough for everyone in our lives. More than anything else, I want him to be happy. More than anything else, he wants me to be happy. That’s what makes him my life partner. He’s still the only person that I want to get old and gray with.

      • deebeazy

        I’m having trouble finding a statistic from a reliable source, but a random Google search indicates that the average marriage in the USA lasts 24 years.  I stand by my assertion that most marriages in this country do not last 50+ years.

  • Quantumlovin

    I appreciate this article, thank you. You are right that most people are scared of their own insecurities when it comes to open relationships ( marriage ). I used to be one of those when in my early 20s. Now I am not so sure, I know for a fact , now at 30, that I am able to forgive adultery, and probably believe that my partner’s feelings towards me remained unchanged.  Wasn’t able to earlier on. Besides I can see that ‘sleeping with other people’ (as part of the relationship) and ‘cheating’ (because your relationship is fucked) is not the same thing. Again, interesting to hear your points, thanks.

  • http://christophermluna.com Christopher Michael Luna

    When people raise the kids question to me, I like to raise it back with a slightly different emphasis: “Yeah, I have, thanks. My daughter is three, and she knows how to read and play chess. She can recite Blake’s ‘Tyger Tyger.’ She’s awesome. I thought about kids a lot, which might be one of the reasons why my daughter is so awesome and confident. Surprisingly enough her head does not explode at the idea of my non-traditional marriage, which when you think about it makes perfect sense because kids don’t have the same preconceptions that adults do. How about you? Have you really _thought_ about kids?”

  • Nishant

    Why did you get married and not just live together?

    I’m curious. Not trying to judge.

    • Anonym

       I can’t speak for her, but in our society marriage has with it a lot of legal benefits in it self that would make it worth wile. 

      Plus the fact that we you it as a way of, you know, showing that we really love someone. ;)

      • Nishant

        Marriage usually comes with a promise of non-adultery though, doesn’t it? Isn’t that part of Christian weddings/Commandments?

        And if so, doesn’t that make it a mocking way of acquiring legal benefits?

      • Anonym

        To tell the truth, I don’t know. But so what if it does? I would like to remind you that marriage doesn’t have to be a Christian affair. I don’t know how it works in the US, but in Sweden you can go to court and get a marriage without involving the church.

        And there are a lot of different ways of defining adultery and someone in an open marriage can still be adulterous. If the agreement is to tell the spouse about every single encounter and this does not happen – then we have adultery in an open marriage.

        If the agreement is to always use a condom and this doesn’t happen and the spouse is not informed, then again there is a problem.

        I for one do not consider this a mocking way of acquiring legal benefits, but that might have something to do with the fact that I feel that what goes on in the bedroom of consenting adults isn’t something that the government or the church should care about.

        The reason this is an issue is because we had a society where the church and the state where… sort of married and the line between the two where a blur. Take that away and the problem goes away.

      • http://christophermluna.com Christopher Michael Luna

        That’s a really good argument against gay marriage, too. :) Too bad this isn’t a theocracy. Too bad that even if it was there are plenty of liberal protestant denominations who have already decided that hermeneutics involves more than just literal translation. Too bad that even within many Christian denominations that have not come out in favor of this position, lots of ministers and congregants resist Biblical literalism in their communities.

        If you don’t read biblical Hebrew and new testament Greek, I kind of want to revoke your license to interpret the commandments in ways that restricts others’ freedom. If you do read biblical Hebrew and new testament Greek, we could take the conversation to a whole new level. You can track down my contact information and we can talk about biblical literalism in the Hebrew poetry of Genesis 1:1 (man, that is a beautiful bit of poetry, and so hard to translate!), or what to make of the polygamy of the major male figures of the Torah, or the subtle relationship between the authority of the Gospels and that of the Epistles (wherein, for example, Paul clearly distinguishes his very limited authority to interpret the teachings of Christ for a specific time and place as opposed to the authority of Christ himself).

        We could also talk about commandments. There aren’t ten, you know, but more than 600, and the so-called “ten commandments” are actually better translated from the Hebrew as “ten words.” Various sects don’t even agree on what the ten words are, and even if you’re into Christian supersessionism, the reduction of the commandments comes down to “Love God with all your heart, and love your neighbor as you love yourself.”

        I love talking about the Bible, personally. Beautiful text. Very interesting issues in it. But if you’re going to use a religion as a basis for telling other people what to do, you better at least understand it really really well. Do you, or were just invoking an authority that conveniently confirmed your bias?

      • Nishant

        (Or just here. Couldn’t comment below for some reason.)

        I understand both yours and Anonym’s points. I’m not Christian (wait, is that supposed to be a capital C?), so I am in no position to interpret the Bible in any way. My own religion, if I look back into the texts the way you refer to the Bible and the Testaments, would be quite chilled out too. The Kama Sutra has some interesting views on sex in marital life. :P

        My point about the adultery was kinda sarcastic. I mean, what if your spouse decides he/she does not like you. Suppose, for ease of conversation, it’s a she. Suppose it’s a she whose scorn hell hath no fury like. You could be sued for a LOT of money in divorce proceedings. Pretty much all your money. It’s unsafe is what I’m saying. In a country with an overwhelmingly high divorce rate, it’s VERY unsafe. 

        Be that as it may, as I said in my other comments on this post, I’m happy for however people find their happiness. 

      • http://christophermluna.com Christopher Michael Luna

        Ah, I didn’t realize that this was an actual question. I see from your Facebook profile that you’re from India? I guess it’s sad for me that people outside the US wouldn’t know that American marriage law doesn’t invoke scripture.

        We’ve brought that on ourselves, I guess. I responded with offense because I thought you were American or otherwise familiar enough with the debates around marriage law in the US to be implying that a marriage which deviated from bad evangelical theology was a mockery to US law.

        If that was a legitimate question and not a rhetorical one, then no, US marriage law isn’t based on bad evangelical theology. There are people in the US who would like it to be, though, and that’s something we all have to fight against.

        All that being said, I didn’t get into a marriage with someone who would distort the truth of our relationship just to burn me if something didn’t work out, and I don’t have a lot of money to be sued for anyway.

      • Nishant

        Also, I think you got a little overly offended by the Christian wedding/commandments reference. That wasn’t the intention.

      • Anonymous

        Christopher, if you’re ever in Louisiana and you want have a good time, message me on facebook…so that we can geek out over biblical Hebrew!!!! I’m a native English/Creole French speaker, but while I was in college I decided to learn Arabic in order to study the actual Qur’an. That led to curiosity about Judaism. Let me tell ya’:  You just can’t get a good understanding of it without learning at least some basic Hebrew. So, my best friend (who is converting to Judaism) and I just finished our first Hebrew class! I learned more about the Bible from that one language class than I knew from DECADES of attending a church 3 times a week.

        It is NOTHING like what most Christians think!

  • brenna

    I very much respect this.
    For some, monogamy is just not realistic. But being emotionally committed and non-monogamous are not mutually exclusive.
    It takes a hell of a lot of maturity for a relationship like this to work, and I think it’s very honest regarding human nature.
    If I ever get married, I really hope my partner and I can be open and honest about a non-monogamous marriage.
    Good luck and way to think outside the box!

  • Guest

    Thanks for the window into this situation. I often wonder if this will be the right path for me, too. You could minimize a lot of hurtful jealousy when everyone is open and honest and secure in who will continue to love whom in the morning. Ground rules are necessary, and I’d advocate for always letting the external person in on your arrangement so as not to lead him/her on. Really, though, who is anyone to say your marriage cannot be successful due to an honest admission to your sexual needs? I especially appreciate this after yesterdays’s “Why I can’t have an open relationship.” That’s a fine position, too, and I don’t begrudge normalcy. But I’m not an amoral monster for recognizing that love is love and sex is sex. The combination is beautiful and greater than the sum its parts; apart, they are each still pretty awesome.What was the podcast? Would love to listen. 

  • http://mason-jar-memories.blogspot.com/ Grace Elizabeth

    The thing is, I married my husband because there is legitimately no one I would rather be with. In any sense of the word. I can’t imagine functioning in a relationship in which that view is not shared by both partners.

    • deebeazy

       Fantastic!  A blessing on your house :)  Some of us have come to other conclusions, though.

  • shannon

    this is one of the best things i’ve read on thought catalog or the internet in general, ever. a+++++++ 5 billion stars

  • Anonymous

    I really need to know who people are friends with, that these friends so openly comment on and judge other people’s lifestyles.  If someone told me they were in an open marriage, I wouldn’t find it necessary to warn them that they were “heading for grave danger”, nor feel the need to congratulate and praise them.  I just legitimately couldn’t give a shit.  Each to their own right?!

  • http://twitter.com/wesjanisen Wes Janisen

    I really, really enjoyed reading this! I have always been verbally and vehemently against open-relationships, but this presented an argument so rational and well-written that for the first time, I think I understand how they work.  I still believe ORs aren’t for me (too insecure and neurotic, I’m the first to admit it) but I’ll definitely think twice before I make ignorant, blanket statements about open-relationships “not working at all” from now on. Thanks for making me less closed-minded, Erin!

  • Svenry

    I think your main issue is that you compare sex with other partners to doing laundry.

    You clearly have an extremely skewed value system.

    • Guest

      What makes it all that different? It takes between 20 and 45 minutes and you can do it with the TV or some music on. Almost all marriages have to deal with fidelity issues at some point. I find it admirable that these two have communication channels open and both know exactly where they stand. I think they have a much better chance of making it through the 7 year trial than those that enter into marriage with absolute commitment in mind.

      • Svenry

        It’s selfish. That’s all there is to it. If you don’t hate the mental image your husband/wife/boyfriend/girlfriend going to town on another person, all you are is someone capable of massive ignorance. Or you don’t love them all that much. 

        Monogamists think they’re superior to monogamish people and vice versa. I hate it. Holy fucking shit, if you truly care about someone, who they have sex with matters. Fuck.

      • deebeazy

        Maybe this is so obvious to you that you don’t think you have to spell it out, but: how exactly is pursuing an open relationship selfish?

        I can see where it would be selfish to pursue extramarital sex when your spouse clearly doesn’t want you to, but clearly we’re talking about something that both parties have agreed to.  So how is it selfish – i.e. whose needs are being disregarded in favor of one’s own?

      • Guest

        THIS

      • http://christophermluna.com Christopher Michael Luna

        I write THIS in caps lock to really drive the point home. Because when one person brackets their generalizations in profanity, what really sends the message home is when someone else writes THIS after it.

      • http://christophermluna.com Christopher Michael Luna

        Caring about the sex-life of someone you love is not equivalent to needing them to be sexually exclusive to you. “It matters who we fuck and why!” ≠ “Monogamy!”

        Compare your, “If you don’t hate the mental image your husband/wife/boyfriend/girlfriend going to town on another person, all you are is someone capable of massive ignorance. Or you don’t love them all that much” to this author’s “I’ve spoken to close friends who are sure monogamy is right for them, and I’m convinced they can pull it off, that they know what they’re doing.” Hmmm…

        I don’t know if this is a case where, as you say, “monogamists think they’re superior to monogamish[?] people and vice versa.” It sounds like you think that anyone who doesn’t see love and sex as you do (as something which should be inherently disturbing if it’s not exclusive) is ignorant or not in love enough, and the author of this post, on the other hand, thinks monogamy can work and is a valid choice.

        It boggles the mind the way people feel so confident in deriving from their fleeting experiences with a thing, sometimes only imagining a thing, what must be essential about that thing. One wonders if you’re a seasoned veteran of the polyamorous world, who’s been through decades of misadventure in the coldest, most self-aware state, that you finally feel you can come out on the other end of it and say, “By the by, everyone, you’re all deluding yourselves.” If you are, write a book about it. I bet there’s a market.

      • Svenry

        “Hey [spouse/partner], remember the other night when you fucked that other person/friend? It totally doesn’t bother me at all, because that sort of thing isn’t important to me. I seriously don’t have a problem with it. It’s not that- due to my desire to also have sex with other people- I simply suppress my feelings of jealousy and discomfort, I just honestly don’t give a damn who kisses you or who gets to pleasure you with their face. I don’t understand why that stuff is so central to most people’s idea of a satisfying relationship. Let’s just keep getting to have our cake and eat it too! I mean, I honestly don’t get uncomfortable at all when I picture you swallowing someone else’s semen, because- hey- I get to fuck other people too! I’ll just focus on that and try not to cringe when I imagine you licking someone else’s asshole. We’re totally not lying to ourselves! Sex is just like doing laundry!”

        If your intimate physical relationship doesn’t count for anything, then why does your emotional relationship? I start to worry that an open relationship is just a way to cling to the single lifestyle like a security blanket. What’s the point of pretending to have a meaningful relationship? It’s just a cover for your failure as a couple. Find new people. Don’t just kid yourself into believing you’re ok with them fucking around.

      • http://christophermluna.com Christopher Michael Luna

        Oh, well, when you say it that way my five years of a marriage secure enough that my spouse and I are consistently consulted for relationship advice from our monogamous friends is pretty much revealed as a sham. You’re right, I was totally ignoring the substantive fact involved in the decision.

        Seriously, why don’t you write a book? You’ll save people like me so much wasted time on these futile pipe dreams. :)

      • Anonymous

        LOL Christopher, you’re cracking me up! I’m 12 years in and my life partner/primary partner and I are doing just fine. Our relationship is still intact, even though we’ve been through things that I have never seen any of our monogamous friends get through without a break-up. I always wanted my life-partner to be happy and fulfilled. He’s known that I always believed that he could do as he pleased with his body. I don’t own him and I wouldn’t want to.

        I was so glad that we had this relationship in place when I got diagnosed with cancer. When you’re going through radiation on your chest and then enduring several surgeries where they’re sawing off ribs and cracking your sternum, it’s hard to feel in the mood for sex. In my cancer support group, I felt so awful for the women whose husbands still expected sex from them, even when they’re fighting chemotherapy induced nausea or struggling with the almost unbearable fatigue that comes with those last few weeks of radiation.

        What kind of crappity crap is that?! These guys felt like their wives owed it to them to fulfill their sexual desires. My partner knew that if he felt like he wanted a little action, he could go out and get it, without having to pressure me to do something I wasn’t going to enjoy. It was such a relief to know that I didn’t have to feel obligated to have sexy-time with him.

        Thank goodness that I got through active treatment and thank goodness that I had a partner who knew how to read what I did and didn’t need without me having to tell him. If he slept with anyone during that time, my hat is off to him for finding the time to fit it in, because he was always there when I went to bed and when I woke up, when I needed to be bathed and when I needed him to wipe my arse for me after using the bathroom. I think that anyone who takes as good care of their primary partner as mine did deserves to feel happiness and pleasure wherever they can find it.

      • Svenry

        I’m definitely writing in a very heated tone. I was afraid of that. So, to avoid becoming the scum of the internet, I’ll just quote HRY’s post instead of blabbing like a baby: 

        “It doesn’t mean that there aren’t a lot of problems that could affect open marriages just as badly as monogamous ones – she [the author] seems to think that all jealousy immediately goes out the window in an open marriage.”

        I suppose I’m just not comfortable with anyone implying that an open relationship lifestyle is some sort of obvious solution that people who favor monogamy simply aren’t enlightened enough to accept. 

        I like your book idea. I’ll be sure to include a pack of matches with each copy for when the reader’s disgust inevitably reaches a critical level.

      • http://www.facebook.com/cakeobsessedboy Tom Robbins

        What a primitive viewpoint. Can’t you see that not all styles of relationship suit everybody?

        My intimate physical relationship with my partner is special because of our emotional relationship, not the other way around. Sex is fun, but what makes it special with my partner is the fact that we’re sharing physical intimacy in the context of our relationship. It’s not special because of some illusion of scarcity or exclusivity, it’s special because it’s with someone I love.

        I don’t feel that love and sex are in short supply really. I’m not bothered by my partner being with somebody else, because I don’t believe that has to detract from our relationship either physically or emotionally. In terms of sex, I actually think it’s kinda hot. Emotionally, my idea of commitment is centred on ideas like being able to be completely honest with each other and wanting to build a life together, so that’s not a big deal either. I’ve never been a great one for jealousy, and when it crops up you learn to deal with it.

        It’s not for you to say whether other people’s relationships are meaningful. 

      • Guestropod


        If you don’t hate the mental image your husband/wife/boyfriend/girlfriend going to town on another person, all you are is someone capable of massive ignorance. Or you don’t love them all that much.  ”

        Wow, that is really intense and also untrue.  

      • Anonymous

        I agree. That guy sounds neurotic!

      • Nishant

        “Holy fucking shit, if you truly care about someone, who they have sex with matters. Fuck.”

        I’m going to risk my neck and agree with that. It’s part of being in love, for me.

      • Anonym

         For you perhaps, but we are all different and others work in different ways and have other definitions of love.

        I can give my self as an example.

        Yes, *who* my two girlfriends have sex with matters in so far as I don’t want them to hook up with someone like say Charles Manson, Timothy McVeigh or Ted Bundy (to name a few extreme cases). But the fact that I’m fine with them having sex with someone other than me does not mean I don’t love them any less than you would. I love them, care about them and I don’t want them to get hurt. But at the same time – if they’re happy, then that makes me happy. Even if they’re happy because of what someone else did. If you’re happy in a monogamous relationship, then good for you! I really mean that. :) But why is it so difficult to accept that other can be happy and in love in another way? Does it threaten you somehow?

      • Nishant

        But I didn’t say it threatens me in any way. It is a little complicated to understand, sure. I don’t think anyone can deny that. 

        Also, I said that “it’s part of being in love, FOR ME.” for that exact reason. :)

      • Anonym

         First of I apologize. Being polyamorous you get a lot bad stuff thrown in your face and so have I from day one. You did write “for me” which I somehow missed and that was one of the reasons for asking you if you where threatened. I’m sorry about that.

        I can understand how this could be complicated to understand for someone who doesn’t work taht way, but for me it isn’t. :D

      • Roy

         ‘if you love someone, then who they have sex with matters.” I agree. But what if you like the other person? Then is it okay? what if the other person is an upstanding member of society? I think what you meant is “if you love someone, then that they have sex with someone other than you is wrong.” That’s not love – that’s ownership.

      • http://twitter.com/MoreThanNuclear More Than Nuclear

        How is choosing *not* to restrict the personal life of someone you love selfish?

        And no, I don’t hate that mental image.  I’m fine with it.  Don’t assume that someone who has enjoyed something that you don’t want to try is “ignorant” just because you can’t wrap your head around it.

      • http://www.facebook.com/cakeobsessedboy Tom Robbins

        Liberation is selfish, and you hate that monogamists think they’re superior while telling us all that they are. Okay…

    • AnnieGirl

      thank you! why is no one taking offense to this?! 

      • http://www.facebook.com/cakeobsessedboy Tom Robbins

        At comparing sex with laundry? Could be because no one finds it offensive.

    • Erin Judge

      The analogy I was trying to draw was, what if strangers kept asking you all these hand-wringing, fraught questions about an element of your relationship that doesn’t cause any problems or strife? 

      Our sex life is far more important, crucial and precious than the laundry. The point is, it’s not a huge point of conflict, and the assumption that it is from outsiders is like if people assumed your relationship was a non-stop laundry battle. 

  • Hry

    Hmm. This article is a good one, but I take one or two minor issues with it. I can’t be the only Dan Savage apostle here, and what I’d say is that the author has been very fortunate to find a mate whose sexual wants/needs match up with her own so perfectly, and as a result sees eye-to-eye with him so well. This doesn’t make her marriage better, or worse, than any other couple who match up as ideally, be they monogamous or not. It doesn’t mean that there aren’t a lot of problems that could affect open marriages just as badly as monogamous ones – she seems to think that all jealousy immediately goes out the window in an open marriage. Maybe it has in hers (and good for her) but there are still just as many pitfalls as monogamy – what if one partner is more “open” than the other? You can see the problems this causes in past Savage Love columns – one partner feels pressured, rejected, manipulated – in short all the problems the monogamous have as well.

    Finally, I don’t love the general feel of the article. I understand that the author is probably conditioned by the loudly-voiced opinions of closed-minded individuals who take an instantaneous dislike to her way of life, but your marriage isn’t intrinsically better than a monogamous one. Specifically, people aren’t necessarily in a monogamous relationship because they’re insecure – different people have different appetites, and the author above all should know that.

    • Nishant

      Personally, I am really happy for the author and her spouse for having found their ‘system’, so to say, such that they’re both very content in their marriage. 

      But I agree with one point you make above. In supporting/cheering on the nature of her marriage, a lot of people seem to buy into the idea that monogamy is possible only out of negative feelings (“He/She better not sleep with someone else either!) instead of positive ones (“I only want to have sex with him/her”).

    • Garibokima

       Perfectly, articulated. Thank you.

  • http://twitter.com/Kymele Eden Mabee

    I think it has to do with temptation.  We’re SO terrified that we won’t be able to control ourselves if we are “tempted by another” (or worse, we cannot trust enough to believe that our partners will be able to resist temptation) that we go out of our way to keep it from becoming an issue.  And for those that “stray” they have to hide it, even though they may truly love their partner, the lies that we tell to hide our escape from exclusivity end up making resentment on both sides that destroys the relationship from inside.

    I cannot say personally how I would feel about the idea.  I agree with another commenter that I would need to have some serious emotional connection with anyone I might be with, and in some discussions my husband and I have had, I gather he mostly would as well.    And so, while we talk about it a lot, and at times I wonder and worry, and at times I wish I could find someone who would become almost a “second wife” for him…  it really hasn’t happened.

    It’s such a complex and personal issue.  I’m thrilled it is working for you. 

    (And for the Guest who says “For Now”…  Actually, this is a FAR more common and far more traditional style of marriage than the so called “ideal” monogamous marriage)

  • Guest

    Thanks for writing this, it was a very interesting read. Makes me much more open-minded to the idea, and you brought up some valid points. 
    I’m curious though.. Is it possible to go from monogamous to polyamorous then back to monogamous with the same person? As in.. a relationship becoming ‘open’ when one person must travel, then ‘closed’ when they’re together again? Or is that just asking for trouble? Do most people just stick to one or the other?

    • http://twitter.com/nympsam Samantha Fraser, TMI

      It depends on the situation. Some people close up for a while, if it suits the current situations in their relationships, and others don’t. Whatever feels right.

    • Patricia Puzzo

      This is pretty much what my BF and I do. He works on the road for about seven months straight with only a couple trips home in between. We’re in the “if the opportunity presents itself”  type of open relationship, in that neither of us actively seek someone to hook up with when we’re apart; if it happens, it happens.  When he’s home the rest of the time, we don’t see anyone else individually, although we’ll do threesomes or things like that in which both of us participate in some way. Our time together is too limited to spend it seeing other people separately. We’ve been together over two years and this is the best relationship I’ve ever had, and he says the same thing. I do think, however, that if he got a job that kept him home all the time, our relationship would lean more to the monogamous side.

  • Kudos

    I dont think people are really allowed to give their two cents on a subject like this. All relationships are different, and between the two people actually in it. If you have a problem with open relationships just do do it, but to say its wrong for someone else is pretty insensitive. I dont think I’d be open to the idea, but I couldnt bring myself to tell someone else how to live their lives. And to be quite honest, being monogamous doesnt equal happy, stress-free and easy. If anything, they might have it better because they’re honest and open about the things most couples wrestle with so much (trust/insecurities).

    Props to the author for defending her relationship, I just wish society was mature enough that she wouldnt have to.

    • Edit

      I meant to say: if you have a problem wit open relationships just DONT do them

  • Anonymous

    This was one of the most refreshing reads I’ve had recently. Thanks for a thought-provoking article although I don’t necessarily think that I understand how jealousy wouldn’t step in in such a situation but it’s brilliant that the author and her partner are able to find some common ground regarding the issue and make it work, somehow. I agree with most of the comments here; even if you don’t agree with the author’s points, it doesn’t give you the right to say such a relationship is bad or such a relationship is good. Different things just work differently for everyone and whoever said that a family has to involve a male father, female mother and kids? Whoever dictated that romantic love can only occur between people of the opposite sex? They all make use of somewhat the same concept; you find what works for you and what may seem taboo to society, may not be that “wrong” after all.

  • Katrina

    This was exactly what I needed to read. I have recently started “seeing” a girl who is bisexual, engaged and one half of a polygamy relationship. Her fiance acknowledges that there is a side of her he simply can’t satisfy, that’s where I come in. 

    We hang out, we hook up, and I go home. 
    Jealousy has never been a problem between them, because of their openness about the nature of their relationship.  

    My friends however are horrified, they feel that I’m some scarlet woman, coming between a committed couple. Something which I had almost started to believe; until I read this article. 
    It was comforting to read from the “couple perspective”, being the  “outsider” myself. 

    • Lady Pugilist

      Thanks, Katrina. I’m a married (for 19 happy years) bisexual woman.  I date other (usually married) bisexual women.  (I object to R Nicator’s “fuck buddy” characterization above, because this trivializes the types of relationships which are possible in this arrangement.  My woman friend and I are friends who support each other like any other women friends in my life–we talk about our husbands, family, home life, goals, interests, etc.  We also have an extra sexual dimension to our friendship.)  Neither one of us is looking to ride off into the sunset with the other, and our husbands are in the know and fine with it.  My husband says he knows he can’t satisfy this part of me, and that he’s happy for me.  I feel more complete, and it’s actually *improved* our sex life and our sense of commitment to one another.  It’s not for everyone (or even most), I know.  But it works for us.

  • R Nicator

    You’re not in an open marriage.  You have a fuck buddy/roomate.

    • Anonymous

      Nope. They are legally married. Sorry!

      • R Nicator

        The tax break cannot replace what they’re missing. 

      • http://twitter.com/MoreThanNuclear More Than Nuclear

        Should it?   I don’t get your point.

      • http://twitter.com/nympsam Samantha Fraser, TMI

        And legally married doesn’t meant that they have to live a certain lifestyle because it pleases you. My open marriage is set up for my husband and I to love, support and be there for each other, above all others, but how we live our relationships with other people doesn’t mean we’re breaking the rules. They’re OUR rules, since we’re the ones legally married, not you.

    • Nina

      Trying to invalidate this woman’s marriage will never validate your own. Your obnoxious comment shows how insecure you are about yourself and your relationships. She is legally married to her “best friend” and lover with whom she shares an honest partnership. They’re allowed to define their committment to one another any way they see fit.

  • Nishant

    I get the feeling that, confronted with a lifestyle more ‘open’ or different from ours, a large part of the audience here is simply overdoing the “I support you and this sounds awesome” routine.

    I find it a little difficult to see why there aren’t more thoughtful comments other than “Yay, you guys are so awesome!”, especially considering the ridiculously high number of “OMG I LOVE YOU!” and “This is so true, we should wait for the love of our life” kind of comments I see in Ryan O’Connell posts.

    Not taking away from the subject of this article. Just think people go out of their way to appear supportive and ‘cool with it’ sometimes.

    • http://facebook.com/skyorphan Garima

       True. True. True. Overcompensation killed many a bunny.

  • Babu

     I always thought that an open relationship works for the same reason a monogamous relationship doesn’t: people may end up wanting to sleep with people other than their significant other. Likewise a monogamous relationship works for the same reason an open relationship doesn’t: sometimes people don’t ever want to sleep with people other than their significant other.  All depends on personality of the individuals and the dynamics of the relationship. What works for some people won’t work for everyone.

  • Michaelwg

    As someone who has a very negative opinion of traditional relationships/marriage, I enjoyed this.

    • DIRK

      Translation: “As someone whose parents got divorced when I was growing up…”

      • Anonyass

        Translation: “As someone who is bitter about living with parents who stayed together “for the childred” and should not have.

      • Michaelwg

        Conservative parents raised 6 children, together 50 years “’til death” , and every modern marriage I’ve seen first hand (friends, siblings, acquantances) looks like an absolute wasted life amidst shattered dreams. But hey let’s live through our kids!… But enjoy your status quo and the view from the high horse. I’ll continue to have a spectacular lifestyle.

  • Cosmos

    Loved the laundry analogy. If it’s true, then it’s quite an eye-opening look into the world of open marriages. How does the non-attachment practice work though?

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