Rather than break up, we chose to "open up."
As told to Amelia Mularz
I was 24 and living with my boyfriend when I had what I'd call a quarter-life crisis. Greg and I had been dating for four years when suddenly it hit me: I needed to experience other men. I wasn't just curious; I was also afraid that I'd be 80 one day and regret not having experimented or explored my sexuality. I didn’t want to cheat, so I considered a breakup. But it was so hard; I still loved my boyfriend.
I decided just to talk to Greg. I told him that I was interested in being with other guys physically. We had talked about marriage and monogamy before and both agreed that it would be tough to sleep with one person for the rest of our lives, so I knew we were on the same page to some extent. But that was a purely hypothetical conversation. This was real and present.
After a long talk, he agreed that an open relationship would be worth a try. Of course he was nervous about it — I'd say he gave me a yellowish-green light at that point. To reassure us both, we set some ground rules:
1. No sex with other people in our apartment.
2. Take a shower immediately after a hookup.
3. No dates; no dinners. Our encounters with other people had to be superficial and strictly physical.
4. Hit it and quit it. Have sex and get out of there (no cuddling!).
5. Talking on the phone and texting was only allowed if it involved sex.
6. Try to plan ahead. If I knew I was going out to try to meet someone, I should give him a heads up (and vice versa).
I had a lot of friends who didn't quite get it. One friend told me it was messed up and I should just break up with Greg and move on. He suggested that this kind of situation is not even a "real" relationship, and that Greg is just a "pretend:" boyfriend as long as I’m sleeping with other guys. I considered the idea, but it just wasn’t true. There was no part of me that wanted Greg to be my ex. I didn’t want to move on from him, even if some our friends thought that was best for us both. We knew better.
Excited by the new terms, I dove right in; didn't bother dipping my toe. About a week later I met a guy through mutual friends, and we hooked up that night. Immediately I felt guilty. It was 6am by the time I got home, and Greg was still asleep. I started thinking about saying those words out loud — I had sex with someone else — and it felt awful. When he finally woke up, he could tell I was upset. I told him I’d slept with another guy. Greg held me. He said I shouldn’t be scared and that he understood.
It was about a year before Greg slept with another woman. I was okay with it, of course; I had to be because I’d slept with multiple men before him. Eventually we had to adjust our rules because we realized it’s really hard for a guy to hook up with a woman if he can’t bring her back to his place. So I told Greg he could use our apartment as long as he changed the sheets immediately after sex.
The critical thing in open relationships like the one we had is that you cannot develop emotions for the other people that you meet. It’s a huge no-no. Both Greg and I have been guilty of that one. We each took a step back at those times, re-evaluated, and took some space from those other people to avoid confusion. You have to be able to trust your partner and feel like you can truly communicate with him or her. Greg and I have that, and I think that’s why this has worked for us. If our relationship were rocky in any way, this setup would be disastrous.
How It Saved Us:
It’s been three years now and Greg and I are still together — and we’re still in an open relationship. Not only has opening things up made us happier, but it’s completely saved us as a couple. For the most part, our friends – once dubious – have accepted our situation and agreed that breaking up and moving on wouldn’t have been the right decision. Sure, they’re curious about how it works and ask a ton of questions, but we’re happy to answer. In fact, the first question I always get is, "Does your boyfriend know you’re doing this?" Yeah! Of course he knows!
I admit that in some ways, this is a selfish thing — Greg and I want to sleep with other people. But in a lot of ways, I think it’s pretty selfless, too. We see each other as individuals, and we want to experience things as individuals in order to make our bond as a couple stronger. What we’ve done is take the “rules” out of sexuality and relationship and made those things conform to us. I have so many friends who have experienced infidelity. They always say, "It’s not the sex that bothered me; it’s the lying." Greg and I have totally eliminated the possibility of lying, and we couldn't be happier.
Would you and your partner ever "open up?"