I have two boyfriends.
Yes, they know about each other. No, they don't hate each other, and no one is miserable. My boyfriends don't fight -- actually, they're friends. Everything feels, oddly enough, pretty normal.
The reality of being in an open relationship isn't at all what people assume. Here's what it's really like, from someone who's actually in one.
Open couples lay the groundwork early
I've been dating James for four years.
We met at a music festival. He was a fellow free spirit, an imaginative thinker, and refreshingly down to earth. In the context of our adventurous lifestyle, being in an open relationship felt natural. We didn't want to stifle each other and loved having the freedom to hook up with other people.
Our relationship deepened after a year and we wanted to focus on our connection. So we moved to a new city together, got a dog, and settled into a comfortable monogamy.
We could imagine being together for the rest of our lives, but couldn't imagine never dating or sleeping with anyone else again. We knew we wanted to re-open things in the future. Yes, even as our relationship with each other deepened and grew.
You don't go hunting around for additional partners
James and I were together for three years when an acquaintance of mine named Luke moved to my city. He and I met up for drinks, and our conversation flowed naturally. I was instantly attracted to him. He was captivatingly intelligent, kind, and covered in tattoos. One pitcher of beer turned into three. We talked until the bar closed.
I was giddy about our encounter, and James was happy to see me so excited when I told him all about Luke. We agreed to re-open our relationship. The next time I went out with Luke, we hit it off and ended up making out at the bar.
I figured I'd get bored and things would fizzle out after a few dates, like they usually do. And Luke wasn't looking for anything serious. Regardless, it was soon apparent that we couldn't get enough of each other. The two of us made plans several times a week. And within a month, he was calling me his girlfriend.
Elements of open relationships feel truly liberating
Everything felt natural and exciting, but part of me was freaking out. I never thought I'd have two boyfriends. I wasn't even sure if I wanted two boyfriends. A boyfriend and a friends with benefits? Sure. I could handle that. But two boyfriends? How would that even work?
At first, it was easy to suppress my fears and go with the flow. James and Luke had similar interests, so they naturally got along. Yet, their differences made for unique dates and conversations. Luke loved going out for sushi, wine, and cheese (which James hated), while James loved going to clubs and concerts (which Luke hated). So, I got to go out twice as often and do more things I liked.
Meanwhile, they were benefiting too. James had more time to spend on work. He stopped feeling guilty about coming home late, because on those nights I usually went out with Luke. And Luke liked having the freedom to go out with other people without the pressure of it turning into a relationship.
Falling in love feels wonderful, but requires additional work when it involves multiple people
Before Luke and I were emotionally invested, our arrangement felt effortless. But falling in love changed everything.
He and I suddenly felt vulnerable. We wanted stability. Usually, that comfort comes from a monogamous commitment, which we obviously didn't have. So, we had to figure out new ways to show our dedication. Plus, we had to tackle issues that monogamous couples just don't; like which guy I would be with, when; telling friends and family I was openly dating two men, and how we'd handle public displays of affection in front of my other boyfriend.
At first, I spent some nights with each and made my plans clear so there were no hurt feelings. But as Luke became a bigger part of my life, met my friends, and came out more often, that initial comfort didn't last. Meanwhile, Luke didn't want to explain our unique relationship style to all his friends.
And of course, the first time James saw Luke and I show affection toward each other, his stomach turned.
Ironing out the logistics of an open relationship requires everyone's input
James, Luke, and I needed to talk through every aspect of our relationships. It wasn't always easy for us to each speak up about what was important to us -- and for the others to set boundaries reflecting those needs. But we all value honesty, affection, and discretion, so ultimately we were able to find some common ground.
The three of us agreed that PG-rated public affection was fine -- but that hooking up should be relegated to the privacy of our bedrooms. We also agreed that while we would be open to my friends about our arrangement, James and Luke could share with their family and friends as they saw fit. To be respectful of that, I don't post about either of them excessively on social media, am cautious about my privacy settings, and don't mention it around their family and friends.
These boundaries helped to ease immediate discomfort -- but practical issues are just one part of the equation.
Outside assumptions and our own human frailties are far more complicated to untangle
Often, we are put into roles of "villain" and "victim." Some people think Luke is the villain taking me away from James, the victim. Many people think I'm the villain, forcing both into an unequal relationship -- especially when they're not dating others.
These assumptions aren't true; yet they can make us feel bad about ourselves, as if we're doing something wrong. We have to remind ourselves that we are actively choosing this relationship style and we can all take advantage of it equally, even if we choose not to sometimes.
We also sometimes struggle with feelings of inadequacy. When your partner dates someone else, it's natural to question yourself and the strength of your relationship. What if that person is better than me? What if their relationship becomes more serious? What if they want to move in together? Or get married?
We try to let go of the "what if's" because we can't predict what will happen. Instead, we focus on maximizing our happiness, right now. I always show James and Luke how important they are to me through my words, thoughtful gifts, special date nights, being present in the moment, and being there when they need me.
When I'm scared or jealous, I remind myself that I'm amazing and that I want my partners to be happy. If they would ultimately be happier with someone else, it would break my heart. But it would also feel cruel to try and stop them.
Despite being dedicated to making a relationship work, we never know how long it will last
Like any relationship, being in love puts you in uncharted territory. Will my arrangement with James and Luke last another year? A decade? A lifetime? If it lasts long-term, what will that look like?
And though it seems like monogamy is easy to predict (date, move in, get engaged, get married, have kids…), you and I both know that's not the case. So far, my relationship with these two men is working. But I imagine there may come a time where it doesn't work anymore, just like any other relationship. It might be because of our relationship style, or it could be one of the other million things couples break up over. But for now, we're happy -- and we're not changing a thing.