Our grandparents didn’t date like millennials do now? Are we seeing a trend that will fade away or the new age American signs of commitment?
In the come ups of dating culture whether in a city setting or neighboring, we have the problematic luxury of dating as we see fit. Monogamous, polyamorous, no-strings-attached, and the onslaught of multiple choice fraternizing. In the space of having people are your fingertips, you’re not meeting people by bumping into them at your favorite cafe, accidentally calling their landline, or sending letters in the mail. You never have to put yourself on the limb—and when we were bumping into our significant others, the concept of finding the one was incredibly potent. So we ask, what makes a consensual open relationship work?
In our head: what are the key components of an open relationship? What do they look like, sound like, smell like even? Mariam Webster tells us, “a marriage or relationship in which both partners agree that each may have sexual relations with others.” Urban Dictionary extrapolates, “a relationship in which two people agree that they want to be together, but can’t exactly promise that they won’t see other people too. Basically, to have it all: a significant other and the freedom to hook up with other people. Common during college for many post-high school relationships.” Unironically enough, in the midst of a Google search, Google iterates that…
Open Relationships are stupid.
Seems like the world has a lot of anger towards the concept of an “open relationship.” But where does this angst stem from? Anonymous users on the r/unpopularopinions, Reddit thread, have to say, “you’re the assholes for actively discouraging monogamy and saying cheating on your spouse is no big deal. And even if you refuse to call it cheating, it’s still cheating because it makes a mockery out of the whole idea of two people being in a relationship.” Others commented on the grounds of their own psychosis, “I’ve never been in an open relationship, they’re not for me. I imagine it would turn me neurotic and make me insecure. However, I don’t care what other consenting adults do in their relationships. It’s not cheating if they agree the relationship is open.”
In a study reported by the SAGE Journals, authors Terri D. Conley, Jes L. Matsick, Amy C. Moors, Ali Ziegler, engage in the added benefits of a non-monogamous relationship and speak to what it is on a scientific level, “the optimality of monogamy, we suggest, is an implicit premise underlying both formal theories of relationship functioning and laypeople’s implicit theories about how relationships work.” Their study, however, does not go against the already accepted norm of how people view open relationships, “At the same time, the assumption underlying research on sexual unfaithfulness (i.e., nonconsensual non-monogamy) is that any extradyadic sex is infidelity. The presence of extradyadic encounters is assumed to be evidence of low relationship quality. A more valid approach would be for researchers to ask questions about whether the couple has agreed to be monogamous or whether instead they have extradyadic partners because they have agreed that it is acceptable to engage in non-monogamous sexual behaviors.”
It seems that communication comes at the highest peak on the pedestal. Talking with your loved one about the option to stay loyal but open to other people in your life, seems like it would be easy? To the team over at openrelationships.org, a group of love and relationship coaches, authors, and psychologists, it’s an incredibly difficult sea field to navigate. “Don’t exaggerate with sexy details, it might trigger your partner’s self-esteem,” their team told us over email, “be discreet, honest and with lots of empathy towards your partner. Talk about both of your sexual partners and your concerns. Also arrange a meeting together. Two women who sleep with the same man can become enemies. Especially if they don’t know each other, they will start projecting things onto each other. Or, when done right, they can become sisters for a lifetime.”
But instead of the science, the experts, and the love and life coaches, we wanted to hear from real people who really go through open relationships like it’s the norm. We rang the horn into our community and posed the question of ‘if you’re in an open relationship, how do you make it work?” The responses we got were very synonymous: “We talk, a lot. Especially about relationships,” one community member told us over direct message, “we both go through phases of partners. I have two right now, but before we left California, I didn’t have any and he had two. I like knowing that my partner is happy. There are things I do to make him happy, and there are things others do to make him happy.”
The openrelationship.org team echoes this sentiment, “No matter what, your main partner is first in any plans, events or situation. That stabilizes your relationship and brings security into the picture,” they said when asked about the main partner in the relationship, “this is mainly valid for an open relationship. If it comes to polyamory (having two or more main partners) it’s a different story. The development of unconditional love in a polyamorous relationship is absolutely necessary. It needs a very strong personality and the strong believe in abundant love to deal with more main partners. But until then, be patient and don’t overwhelm yourself and your partner.”
Even celebrities practice the concept of open relationships quite openly, you may just not see it. This for example happened to Demi Moore and her husband Ashton Kutcher. The scandal broke when Britney claimed that Demi told her that they have an open relationship and even threesomes often. Also Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie claim that “fidelity is absolutely essential for a relationship.” She thinks it’s “worse to leave your partner and talk badly about him afterwards.” They publicly state that they don’t want to “chain” or “restrict each other”.
Will Smith and Jada Pinkett Smith stated openly their polygamous relationship not so long ago. Will explained, “Our perspective is, you don’t avoid what’s natural and you’re going to be attracted to people. If it came down to it, then one would say to the other: ‘Look, I need to have sex with somebody. Now I’m not going to do it if you don’t approve of it.’” Jada went on to explain that love and trust are concepts that are inherently drilled into our brain when it comes to relationships, “so we believe loving someone means owning them? Do we believe that ownership is the reason someone should ‘behave’?” “Do we believe that all the expectations, conditions, and underlying threats of ‘you better act right or else’ keep one honest and true? Do we believe that we can have meaningful relationships with people who have not defined nor live by the integrity of his or her higher self? What of unconditional love? Or does love look like, feel like, and operate as enslavement? Do we believe that the more control we put on someone the safer we are? What of TRUST and LOVE?”
In a forthcoming Perspectives in Psychological Science paper, Terri Conley, a University of Michigan psychologist who’s driven the field, defines CNM (consensual non-monogamous [relationships]) as “a relational arrangement in which partners agree that it is acceptable to have more than one sexual and/or romantic relationship at the same time.” That’s distinguished from the “polygamy” practiced by some religious groups, where it’s not always clear whether wives can opt out of the relationship.
Philosopher Carrie Jenkins champions the nature of romantic love in how relationships develop in science. Her book, What Love Is and What It Could Be, examines the long, sometimes awkward legacy of philosophers’ thinking on romantic love, and compares that with a new subfield in close-relationships research. While singers and thinkers alike have been riffing on a “one and only” for decades, she argues that space is being made in the cultural conversation to “question the universal norm of monogamous love, just as we previously created space to question the universal norm of hetero love.”
Of course, not without slack.
“THIS WOMAN IS A DISGUSTING ANIMAL,” many online trolls would write as Jenkins would publish her relationships on the internet. “Every bit as twisted and queer as the Mormons with their multiple lives [sic]. This femme-pig is the spectral opposite of Trump; a far far left-wing freak that desires to completely overthrow Western Christian Civilization.” The modern world wasn’t and in some cases, isn’t ready for other forms of relationship statuses. Though for a long time, and you can investigate yourself, on social media you can change your relationship status to a multitude of different answers.
And when we scour the dating exosphere, we’re seeing the litany of open relationship connoisseurs bubble to the surface. Every passing profile touts the luxury need of having or wanting an open relationship. People who date on applications such as Bumble, Tinder, Grindr, all (or most) want magical open situations that make them the sole benefactor—not entirely considering the gravitas of someone else. “The need for diversity is strong in people,” states the journal, “lovers start yearning for more polarity and diversity in their relationships—especially during long-term relationships. So people slowly look into other options and experiment with different concepts that suits their lifestyle better.”
But does this mean you should attempt an open relationship with your partner? Experts point to communication as the gate for any new experiences—”open relationships are not for everybody. For some it might seem like a walk in the park, for others it brings great emotional and mental suffering. If both parties agree to this lifestyle it’s important to set a time frame for how long you want to give it a trail until you might decide it suit both of you or not.”
For those seeking to reach other people in their committed relationship, using other phrases or names to describe your situation could help lessen the anxiety, fear, or labels it brings, “when we met he was dating another person. Then, all 3 of us were dating,” our community told us when we posed the question of how their (respective) relationships came together, “that stayed about 7 or 8 months before she found a girlfriend (they just got engaged). The conversation came from there. We don’t have sex with other people unless everyone is on board. That was a clear limit we set, so we tend to call ourselves hierarchical poly.”
In the end, it’s all about who you love and how they perceive love. In any relationship, communication needs to be established, a clear line between you and your lover about whether an open relationship is something in your cards. Because nothing good ever came from not talking or using your words.
// Have something to say about the story? DM us! Feature photo by Gemma Chua-Tran.