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With snowflake details inside, how would I go about navigating the waters of finding a partner for limited openness?
June 18, 2012 7:55 AM   Subscribe

I think I may be interested in exploring an open relationship at some point down the line, but where do I meet others like me?

Anonymous because this is just going to sound shitty from every perspective.

I'm a late 20s female. I've recently started thinking that maybe in the long term, I would want some sort of an openness in my long term relationship. I don't want to start out open - I think a couple needs at least a few years to be together and bond - but eventually, I wonder if an affair or two a year that are mutually allowed would only enhance life.

The problem: how do I figure out who might be up for this sort of arrangement most tactfully?

I'm culturally fairly mainstream, and most of my friends are professionals and academics. We typically ascribe to pretty conventional lifestyles and values. The people I've seen seeking openness on their online profiles or attending polyamory meetings, etc, are generally very counterculture. I respect this, but it's not who I am and it's not typically a crowd I fit in with.

So now what? At this point in time, if I saw a man's profile that openly stated a preference for an open relationship, I would be fairly put off, because the honest statement of such a preference reveals some disregard for playing by society's rules. I recognize the irony here, but I actually do have a career that would be potentially damaged if this were a well-known fact about me, and most of the men whose lifestyles match mine probably fit into this same category. I actually hope this fact about society changes in the future, but this is the reality now.

So... Do I just date and initiate philosophical conversations about the nature of monogamy, taking it from there by gauging response? Do I bring it up directly within the first month or two of dating? Another issue here is that I don't want to scare off someone who may potentially be GGG about this after learning more about it by bringing it up early or in a manner that may seem aggressive. I think many people may never have considered the possibility that this can be a functional reality, and need to give it thought before being put off by unconventional ideas. For this reason, I wonder about the benefits of gently holding philosophical or hypothetical discussions and seeing where things go from there.

Also, do you have any examples of conventionally successful couples in every respect but this? I have NO doubt that some if not many couples I know have agreements of the sort, which are unknown to me for the aforementioned reasons, as well as just privacy. Are there high-powered professional couples who are open about this, whom you know? What are they like? If they're not open publicly about it, how did it come about?
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (19 answers total) 19 users marked this as a favorite
 
Yes it is possible. There are a good number of people out there living this life, but for the reasons you note not broadcasting it. One's career can be impacted, no doubt, and there is no legal protection for alternative martial arrangements.

From my own experience the best way to find this out about a potential partner early on is not to ask if "down the road after we've been happy a few years...etc" but to ask about jealousy. You want to find someone who more or less does not feel jealousy or envy. That will make this plan possible.
posted by French Fry at 8:21 AM on June 18, 2012 [1 favorite]


I was in an open relationship for several years. I can't really imagine going back to that, but it wasn't the "open" part that ended the relationship. I don't have much advice on where to find people, but since your question goes a little beyond that, I'll tell you this much:

*Don't feel guilty. You want what you want. But be honest with your significant other(s) about that. Make SURE your partner(s) are okay with this because they really are okay with it, and not because they're just accepting this as the necessary price of being with you, because that'll tear them up inside.

*When my girlfriend first broached the topic of us being an open relationship, I was crushed. I knew she had been in open relationships before, but she said she was fine with monogamy and we'd been together for about a year. In hindsight, she was pretty tactless about it. You really need to consider this carefully. I would advise you to handle this early on in any relationship--say you're open to it and see how they feel.

*Consider that you may well have an easier time finding alternate partners than any steady boyfriend. My gf started seeing another guy right away, but it was years before I started seeing someone else. It's horribly awkward to be a guy and say that your girlfriend is okay with you seeing other women, because usually it sounds like you're a filthy lying cheaterhead man-whore.

*There will inevitably come a time, for you or your S.O., when both partners genuinely, legitimately need you to be there for them, and you can't be in two places at once. It sucks. Be ready for that.

if I saw a man's profile that openly stated a preference for an open relationship, I would be fairly put off, because the honest statement of such a preference reveals some disregard for playing by society's rules. I recognize the irony here,

...I'm trying really hard not to judge here, but you're saying you don't want people who are willing to state that they want what you want. You want to go against society's rules. Own it, at least in private. Playing by double standards is what gets people in trouble in relationships, whether monogamous or polyamorous.

but I actually do have a career that would be potentially damaged if this were a well-known fact about me, and most of the men whose lifestyles match mine probably fit into this same category.

This I can understand. I'm a teacher, and recently some of my seniors did the math and realized that there was likely some overlap in my previous and current girlfriends, and I had to do some quick spin doctoring. I do NOT want to talk about this stuff with students. That said, it's simple: you don't have to talk about it. Decide that you want to keep your private life private and leave it at that. You don't HAVE to check your relationship box on Facebook, or even list who your relationship is with, and you don't have to bring your boyfriend(s) to work functions.
posted by scaryblackdeath at 8:28 AM on June 18, 2012 [18 favorites]


...I'm trying really hard not to judge here, but you're saying you don't want people who are willing to state that they want what you want. You want to go against society's rules. Own it, at least in private. Playing by double standards is what gets people in trouble in relationships, whether monogamous or polyamorous.

I fully agree with this 100%.
posted by wolfdreams01 at 8:35 AM on June 18, 2012 [3 favorites]


Read Opening Up. This book will give you a lot of tools to initiate the right conversations as well as help you come to terms with what kind of "open" relationship YOU want. No two open relationships are alike.
posted by JJtheJetPlane at 8:36 AM on June 18, 2012 [1 favorite]


You want a partner that passes publicly as monogamous, but has a secretly held desire to be polyamorous, but only after 2 years of monogamy. That's a very specific and, not only rare, but by it's very nature difficult to find.

Entering into a monogamous relationship with someone and lying about your intent is a bad way to start a relationship. If someone says they are not interested in an open relationship, your decision that they haven't thought it through and that their deeply held beliefs could be swayed with game-playing "philosophical discussions" is insulting. Believe people when they say they want monogamy. It will save the both of you a lot of pain.

I would bring it up very early on, if someone lead me on for months pretending to want the same things I do and then turning around and telling me they wanted an open relationship I would be pissed. Partly for the deceit, partly for wasting my time. Personally I would end the relationship, and if it happened months in that would be a painful experience.
posted by Dynex at 8:38 AM on June 18, 2012 [3 favorites]


It's totally possible, but most people I know in this situation did get into it by being somewhat more open about their preferences than they either are now at all, or are in most aspects of their life. Some people I know, for example, met while moving in very openly kinky/sex positive circles years ago, and moved into having a less sex-centric group of friends as they got older together, without changing how their relationship works for them.

I think French Fry has it though if you're just going to feel out whether men you meet would be open to this, I would look for general openness, lack of traditionally sexist attitudes (this is a big, important one), sexual adventurousness etc.

And I also think if you'd enjoy this stuff you'd probably enjoy doing it from the start of the relationship as a shared adventure (bonus test of whether it actually works for you), rather then holding off on it until some arbitrary point down the road. For lots of couples it ebbs and flows though, for example many people take a break from outside relationships when they first have a kid.
posted by crabintheocean at 8:39 AM on June 18, 2012 [1 favorite]


crabintheocean points out a very real thing: a significant portion of people in these functioning long term relationships or marriages that are very strait laced got into these relationships back in college or while in a different less professional circumstances, or more sex positive/open circles.

They have since "grown up" into the socially appropriate "normal" presenting folks they seem to be today.

So as others have noted you might need to open your perspective to the less normal to find what you are looking for. As with any non-traditional arrangement (S+M, poly etc) you are creating a lot of filters that are going to reduce your potential pool, be sure you're creating as few as possible. (while still meeting your needs)
posted by French Fry at 8:47 AM on June 18, 2012


Giving this some more thought, I think that you may have more success bringing this up near the start of the relationship, but not RIGHT at the beginning. For example, I consider myself a monogamous guy, but unless I've officially slapped the "girlfriend" label on somebody I'm entirely OK with her sleeping with other people. (As long as she's honest about it, uses protection, doesn't rub it in my face, etc.) However, if she only mentioned this several months into a committed relationship, I would be pissed, and legitimately so.

I recommend dating whatever guy you are interested in, but refusing to commit to a serious relationship until he agrees that affairs will be allowable in the future. That way, you give him a chance to experience all the benefits of being with you (thus demonstrating your selling points) while at the same time being honest and not wasting his time.
posted by wolfdreams01 at 8:54 AM on June 18, 2012


I don't want to start out open - I think a couple needs at least a few years to be together and bond

This is a fine idea, but I'd suggest being transparent from the start about the idea of being open. No lying about your intent, no coasting on your partner's assumptions. No carrying the idea of openness around with you like it's some big terrible bombshell that you'll have to drop sooner or later. Instead, it's a fun adventure that you're looking forward to even though it might be difficult.

You want to find someone who more or less does not feel jealousy or envy. That will make this plan possible.

Mmm, I can't totally agree with this. If you do find a person free of jealousy or envy, congrats! You scored big time! But I think jealousy and envy are pretty human things, if not always rational, so a more realistic approach is to find someone who will be honest about their jealousy and envy and other assorted messy human imperfections and deal with them in a non-jerky way. (In fact, they're so ubiquitous that if I meet someone who claims "I don't feel jealousy," I'm likely to think, "really? Are you suuuuuuuuuure you don't just suppress it?") I mean, that's what I'd want from a monogamous partner too, you know?
posted by clavicle at 9:13 AM on June 18, 2012 [3 favorites]


I also think that there are ways that you can subtly hint toward this in public dating profiles without coming right out and saying it. As noted above, "jealousy" is a buzzword that can help to identify your feelings without being so blatant about it. Other ways to write this into public profiles without being obvious about it would be discussing:

- possessiveness;
- independence;
- being GGG in general terms;
- negotiating the terms of the long term relationship that you're looking for.

I don't think this is a substitute for talking about this frankly with someone you're interested in pursuing a relationship with, but it can help prime the conversation so that they are maybe not so completely clueless about where you're coming from if/when you bring it up.

I understand the difficulties associated with this. A guy I dated dropped the "I want to open up" bomb about three months into dating, without ever really expressing anything along those lines previously, and it just felt *wrong* to me (at that time). Even if he had expressed some general ambivalence toward the concept of monogamy, I might have been more prepared for the conversation. Instead, I was just left feeling like he wasn't actually interested in cultivating a relationship with me, and I ended the relationship.

I think most people are pretty ambivalent about monogamy, even those who choose it and stick to it fervently. It's a pretty weighty concept and one that is pretty universally derided. So I think you can pretty safely express some general dismay at the FOREVERNESS of the arrangement, without making yourself look like a patchouli-wearing-drum-circle-attending-free-love-commune-living character.
posted by jph at 9:20 AM on June 18, 2012


as with the earliest comment, I'd explore this territory by investigating how your potential partner handles feelings of jealousy. I was in a 7+ year relationship that entered into an open phase after the 4th year. Opening the relationship was initiated by my partner, but at the very outset of our dating, she had indicated to me that she had had a familiarity of it from her previous social circle. So we both always knew that it was "on the table", but had not opted into it until we were monogamous for a while.

So, basically, yes, it is possible for you to indicate that this might be something you would like to explore in the future; but isn't something that has to be actively applied or planned for at the outset of your relationship. With the right partner, these initial explorations, can be an opportunity to process why you want this, what the initial boundaries should be or even if it's something that makes sense for your particular partnership.

Start with getting ideas about their feelings with you having platonic friendships with members of your partner's sex. Then also gauge how independent you are with each other when it comes to activities and/or needing emotional/psychological fulfillment with each other vs. getting some of that from other individuals. Also check and see how they feel about you, say, having a non-romantic dinner with another friend or just spending time away from the relationship.

And, if there are issues, don't necessarily make them deal breakers. Talk about them. See how gaps can be bridged or compromised on. Jealousy can arise and sometimes it's fine and can be managed. Other times it can be toxic and damaging. Hard to say in the abstract what flavor you'll encounter. Open relationships are all about frequent, forthcoming and honest communication, and that has to start with your partner before you even choose to go down that path.

Despite all this, I personally do not identify as 'polyamorous'. I know, for myself, that my most satisfying relationship models are built on a dedicated presence with my partner; but I found that being in open relationships (both as a primary, and later as a secondary partner) to be very worthwhile experiences and ones for which I have no regrets, even if I realize that it isn't the model that will make me happiest.

Also, a pleasant surprise that I've found is that once I became comfortable with this model, and would feel confident in discussing it with some people who may be sympathetic, discovering that there are a lot of folks who do seem conventional but are interested in the idea, and won't judge me negatively for my behavior. (and in this case, it can be a little hard to suss out initially ... but generally, atypical attitudes towards lifelong marriage as an end-all-be-all life goal is a good starting point)

There are as many models for open relationships as there are relationships, and I think that most of us who have matured to a certain point realize that "monogamy" is not a goal. The goal can be happiness and a dependable partnership with another individual who complements and reinforces your life in positive ways, and monogamy is one approach, but not the only approach.
posted by bl1nk at 9:30 AM on June 18, 2012 [4 favorites]


As someone whose long-term partner sprung the "I want an open relationship" on them after years of monogamy - do not do this. It would be incredibly surprising if anything good came out of it. As suggested above, start out with discussions on the concept of monogamy as a social structure and issues of jealousy and possessiveness in relationships. I think you'll notice pretty fast if the person you are with is someone who would be curious to explore a non-traditional arrangement with you, or whether they would always be averse to it. If they are, that is who they are, and settling in happily so that you have a stable relationship is most definitely not going to change that.
posted by harujion at 10:26 AM on June 18, 2012


One last point I wanted to make is that another thing to consider is how open you are to negotiation. I think a lot of monogamous people could be made open to limited openness, provided their own needs were satisfied.

For example, part of the reason for my own monogamy is simply pragmatism. I'm not a particularly attractive guy, but I'm very charismatic and good in bed (I apologize if that sounds like bragging). That means that generally speaking, I obtain sex by making women fall in love with me, then keep getting it from them by providing value. Generally the women I date are much more attractive than I am, so being in an open relationship would have no advantages for me - they could easily find men willing to sleep with them, whereas my biggest selling point (making potential prospects fall for me emotionally) would be largely negated by having that big "In a Relationship" status posted on Facebook. That's part of why I don't mind having an S/O sleep around while we're technically single but object to it strongly when we're in a relationship - because it creates an uneven playing field where she has far more opportunities for hookups than I do.

Another question to consider if you're trying to convert a reasonably monogamous person to "semi-openness" is this: what kind of value are you offering them that they can't get if they were just a hookup? "Home-cooked meals" aren't a sufficient inducement to be in a relationship with somebody - you need to provide some benefit to your partner that you don't give to their lover. For example, you could say that certain kinds of sex are only available to your partner, and offer those as an inducement after each time that you hook up with somebody else, so that he still feels special. This might not be entirely FAIR, but your filtering criteria seem pretty strict - so you might consider that you have to offer a little extra value as inducement to make the relationship work.
posted by wolfdreams01 at 11:08 AM on June 18, 2012 [1 favorite]


My boyfriend and I had the open relationship discussion on our second date. We both want an open relationship long term, but we recognize that we need to build a solid foundation first. We have been dating for about a year and a half. We have several friends that are in open marriages and they all seem to make it work.

Couple 1: Married 10 years, opened up the marriage after the third year. They discuss potential partners and receive consent prior to playing with them. Sometimes they play together and sometimes separately. I know of only one occasion where the husband's playmate grew too attached and made the wife uncomfortable, so the husband ended things with the other woman. They meet potential partners online, at swinger clubs, and sometimes on vacations. They discuss everything and are extremely close. The partners are always informed that the marriage comes first.

Couple 2: Married 3 years, opened relationship while dating. They play separately, within a close group of friends. They occasionally introduce a new couple to their group, but mostly they keep to the same circle of friends.

Couple 3 and 4: Couple three has been married 20 years and couple four has been married for 14 years. They are all together all the time. Couple 4 are the godparents to couple 3's kids. They all go on vacations together and spend holidays together. They have all known each other since high school and nobody outside of their close friends know that they are open.
posted by jacindahb at 11:33 AM on June 18, 2012 [2 favorites]


how do I figure out who might be up for this sort of arrangement most tactfully?

you just be honest from the start. so people know what they are getting into. monogamy for a while, then you can date others.

they may decide they don't like it at the point where you decide you're ready to open it up, but they were warned and they knew what they were getting into.
posted by Ironmouth at 12:14 PM on June 18, 2012


There is someone in my circle who is around your age, just a little bit older. She is a professional in a conservative industry, but all of her relationships, through high school, college, and grad school have been open relationships. Those guys have been, to a man, very conventional and sometimes even preppy in appearance and demeanor. They have all been really smart and educated - grad students, research scientists, professionals in tech or finance, etc.

I think with her it is that she was naturally into intelligent, openminded, questioning, rational guys who didn't necessarily think that just because something is a tradition in society, it's the only way to live. You can be like that without going all the way to "countercultural."


Like, I think there's a difference between someone who says, "I'm okay with living in society how it is, but I'm also open to thinking about different ways to be, especially thinking about whether our current strictures are totally rational," and someone who is saying, "Fuck the man, fly your freak flag, scare the squares!"

I think you might have more success than you think if you just look for people who seem pretty conventional but openminded and questioning, and bring this up in the first few dates.
posted by cairdeas at 2:09 PM on June 18, 2012 [5 favorites]


The people I've seen seeking openness on their online profiles or attending polyamory meetings, etc, are generally very counterculture.

This part you're seeing is a "scene". Think of it like any other scene, say fans of a given band. Who is out at all the live shows and wearing the band T-shirt and putting stickers on their notebook? Ok, got that picture? Now picture all the people who happen to enjoy the same albums in the privacy of their own homes. That's everyone else.

So now what?

Two things.

First, do a bunch of reading so you actually have some clearer notion of what it will be like, understanding that literature is all idealistic and you'll probably wind up with a lot of pain thrown in with the fun. There are no free lunches. Sooner you accept that the better.

Second, practice a subtle vocabulary for indicating what you want without feeling garish or obvious. There is a way of saying what you wish to say unambiguously, but with tact, so it will only be heard by those listening for it. Learn and practice that. It becomes second nature.

if I saw a man's profile that openly stated a preference for an open relationship, I would be fairly put off, because the honest statement of such a preference reveals some disregard for playing by society's rules

This is fine, it's who you are. Just understand that this is you effectively asking someone to closet more of themselves than they want to. They may be equally put off of you for that stance. Not impressed, just annoyed.

I think many people may never have considered the possibility that this can be a functional reality, and need to give it thought before being put off by unconventional ideas

No, don't be trying to talk someone into the virtues of a novel relationship structure while you're trying to get them into bed. Let them learn of the existence of non-monogamy from some other, benign source of news. Look for people already predisposed to what you want.

Also, do you have any examples of conventionally successful couples in every respect but this?

Yes. People simply file down their appearance for public perception, to varying degrees as dictated by circumstance (jobs, families, religions, etc.) There's a little dance of mutual-revelation between couples as they get to know the inside-track version of one another, that's all. It can be kinda charming (or tedious).

What are they like?

Careful with non-revealing photos and pseudonyms when online, respectful of other people's privacy and boundaries, a bit cautious tipping this particular card while getting to know new people, but otherwise nothing out of the ordinary. Often brainy.

If they're not open publicly about it, how did it come about?

Some met online, some in person. Some in contexts explicitly related to their chosen relationships (private parties, common lovers), some in contexts quite outside (social gatherings, "normal" dating websites, etc.)
posted by ead at 11:03 PM on June 18, 2012 [1 favorite]


If I see "GGG" anywhere at all on an online dating profile then I assume the person is willing to have frank discussions about sex. This could be filter #1 in the finding people process.
posted by skrozidile at 1:40 PM on June 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


Just a quick note to say that, yes, there are a whole lot of us with professional degrees and mainstream jobs and kids in the suburbs and open relationships.

I hear what you're saying about the counterculture thing--and indeed, I spent some happy time there in my gloriously misspent youth, and am now all respectable and shit. So now I live and let live, and when I met the people in the local poly community in my new hometown, I was totally fine with all the folks who feel the need to assertively demonstrate their weirdness--and started making friends with all the other "outcasts" from the scene--by which I mean the engineers and doctors and soccer moms.

This doesn't quite answer your question, except to say that if you run in poly circles for a while you're bound to find other folks who don't fit in with the weirdos, either, and hopefully you hit it off and take it from there. It's a great adventure. Good luck!
posted by Sublimity at 6:35 PM on June 21, 2012


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