Open Relationships Actually Just Mean 'I'm Not That Serious About You'
Philosophically, I believe in polyamory and open relationships.
There's no moral reason why two people can't love each other while having physical and/or emotional relationships with other people. BUT! I also think it's rare to find a partner who shares the exact same ideology on open dating as you. And, I think using "open relationship" to define a situation you're simply not all that into is mostly just a giant cop-out.
I was once involved with a girl who decided -- quite abruptly -- that she wanted to explore relationships without other people while "maintaining" our current relationship. I'm not the most vanilla person on Earth, but I certainly cannot share my love with another person. It's just not how I'm wired. As it turns out, she wasn't wired for it either... but that didn't stop her from giving it a try (or, pretending to).
It went like this: her name was, uh, "Jennifer?" and we met through mutual friends who have since cut her out of their lives. She encapsulated everything I was into at the time, which was easy on her part, because I was into some really shady shit back then. I fell for Jennifer quickly. We spent a year dating each other exclusively with only a few tiny red flags that... a shitstorm of misery might be on the horizon. She would say truly awful things in a casual tone of voice that would lead anyone to believe it was completely normal to tell their boyfriend that they were "losing interest" in them.
"Wouldn't it be funny if we changed our relationship status to 'it's complicated'?"
"You're not going to be the last person I ever sleep with," she said once, minutes after an afternoon romp. I, being the impressionable young fool I was, discounted these ramblings as being a product of her character.
"She's a free spirit or something like that!" I'd tell my friends, who had all seen Garden State with me.
This was all during 2005 and 2006, when movies like Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind still had their hold on men in America and forced us to believe that our mentally unstable girlfriends were just "unique."
The "open" "relationship" started in early 2007 when she transferred colleges and decided to move to a state down south and attend a now-discredited art school. We were long distance for a few months, which we made work, but it was during one of my many arduous visits to her campus that her true intentions started to take shape.
"Wouldn’t it be funny if we changed our relationship status to 'it's complicated'?" She sat in my lap as she asked this, and I forced a laugh. "Maybe," I choked out, granting her permission to make our issues public to family, friends, and anyone else following our Facebook feeds.
That night, as we crammed our bodies into her single bed, she turned to me and asked what I thought about the social media change.
"But it's, like... a joke, right?" I asked.
"What if it wasn't?" she said, "We could try an open relationship." My heart hit an iceberg, split in half, and sank. (Sorry -- I just rewatched Titanic.)
"You want to date other people?" I asked.
"We would have rules. Like, no falling in love."
"Just fooling around?"
"And sex." She added the word sharply, like she'd been waiting for hours to put that out there. I didn't say anything for a few seconds. So she jabbed me and repeated herself.
"And... sex, I guess."
Could you have guessed it was a disaster? After getting over the feelings of nausea every time she called to talk about her sexual exploits with men, I found myself in the beds of numerous other women for the sole purpose of revenge. We had a special text that we would send each other whenever we'd be "out" with other people: elsewhere.
Now, as I said before, I firmly believe that open relationships CAN work, but they must be entered under the following criteria:
Objectively, we were not in an open relationship, but rather a last-ditch attempt to stay together because both of us lacked the nerve to end it.
1. Both parties have to agree upon an open relationship together and make sure they're on the same page.
2. Both parties identify as polyamorous and communicate their expectations with each other.
3. Both parties have a list of rules by which they agree to abide.
4. Both parties should have an end-game in mind and share said plan... which should provide a clear outline of the future.
5. Both parties should play safe, use protection, and tell their other respective partners about the arrangement.
What Jennifer and I had was not an open relationship, as we followed approximately zero of these steps.
My stomach would cramp up whenever I received that "elsewhere" text, knowing she was in someone else's bed. When I would text her the poisonous phrase, she'd spend the whole night sending me ludicrously angry texts. Objectively, we were not in an open relationship, but rather a last-ditch attempt to stay together because both of us lacked the nerve to end it.
Moral of the story? There's no such thing as star-crossed lovers. There is no "we will eventually be together" bullshit. You can always make a relationship work if you love the person -- and it's definitely not going to work if you suddenly decide you want to sleep with other people. Just break up. Otherwise, you're certain to sabotage the relationship the second you open it up to the world.
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Jeremy Glass is a writer for Thrillist and, yes, this actually happened to him.