This summer, I met a handsome writer and editor. He had his master’s degree, loved to cook and was at least three inches taller than me. He had a sharp sense of humor, a dulcet voice and a kind smile. Sparks flew in every direction at every single level. Save for one: he was already in a relationship.
No, I wasn’t “the other woman.” He was in an open relationship, allowed to see people other than his boyfriend. As far as alternative relationships went, I’d only gone so far to date the same sex, but to date more than one person was a different game for me. Before I decided to play, I had to ask: what are the rules of open relationships?
I asked my friends if they had ever participated in open relationships. I got yeses and no’s and hell no’s, but when I asked how they defined such a thing, their answers greatly varied.
“Depending who you talk to, you might get a different answer,” confirmed Dr. Sara Nasserzadeh, who helped me demystify the human orgasm last week. As a sexuality counselor, Dr. Sara debunked some common myths about open relationships. “Not all people who do it are ‘weird,’” she said. “It’s not always careless and unsafe, and you can’t just sleep with anyone you want.”
Some friends were guilty of believing the above, but Miranda,* a junior at Vassar College, illustrated her concept of open relationships most clearly. “It can happen between two people who acknowledge they have something more substantial than ‘friends with benefits,’” she said. “I find these relationships occur out of situations in which both parties are unable to be together all the time, say, because of distance.”
Open relationships are definitely an option for long-distance partners, especially for couples separated by different colleges. This was the case for Miranda. She and a guy were more than just hookup buddies; had they been in the same town for a longer period of time, Miranda would have dated him exclusively.
I asked Miranda, were she in my position, if she would date anyone in a committed open relationship where distance didn’t matter. “Definitely not,” she answered. “It’s one thing to know he’s in an open relationship in the way I define it and be someone he’s hooking up with without dating necessarily, but I couldn’t date him.” Though Miranda wondered if she’d be more open to the idea if she, like me, would be dating someone of the same sex.
Then I had to wonder: would I be dating the handsome editor or would we just be hooking up? What does it even mean to ‘date’ or ‘hook up?’ Semiotics further complicated the situation. “This is why statistics and research we have aren’t that reliable,” said Dr. Sara, “because every couple has a different idea or definition of an open relationship.”
Miranda and her boy instated ground rules for their open relationship, and Dr. Sara finds this a crucial common denominator. “Both partners must be on board and have the same definitions and boundaries when it comes to their open relationship,” said Dr. Sara. “They need to practice caution and always use condoms for any kind of penetrative sex — anal, oral, or vaginal.
“They also need to have regular check-in points,” she continued. Such check-in discussions are important should one person in the open relationship commit actions or develop emotions they’ve disallowed. Regarding these risks, Dr. Sara said, “It’s important that the foundation of a relationship be strong enough to commit to being open.”
And so the rules of the game are predicated by the players. Each match is different and it needs to be a win for all players involved. If you play fairly, know the rule book and have fun, you’ll hit it out of the park should you and your partner only get to first base or bat a homerun.
Still, why play the game at all? Dr. Sara explains: “Some get turned on when hearing stories of their partners being with someone else. Others keep the romance for one another and just have sex with others to address the lack of it in their relationship. Some just think being monogamous is not something they can commit to and find open relationships as an alternative.”
*Miranda is a pseudonym. Dr. Sara Nasserzadeh is not; follow her Twitter @Dr_Sara.
Photo: at http://www.singleblackmale.org/2010/10/15/are-you-ready-for-an-open-relationship-by-maxfab/