Should I grant my girlfriend a "last hurrah" before settling down?
October 6, 2011 3:02 AM   Subscribe

My long-distance girlfriend wants to have a "last hurrah" and make our relationship open just for a few months before I return to her city and we make a long-term commitment. Are we courting disaster?

So, I meet an amazing girl. We date for 7 months, and then I am offered an extremely attractive 1-2 year job posting halfway across the world. We are now two months into a very committed long distance relationship. We speak multiple times a day by phone, email, chat, etc, and I would say that our communication is very good. If all is well a year down the track, I am planning to move back to the same city so that we can be together. Both of us have a long-term commitment in mind.

However... My girlfriend is in her late 20s and about 8 years younger. She has spent most of her 20s in serious relationships, and has never really had a chance to just date around and have fun. She thinks that this might be her last chance, and wants to have an open relationship, just while we are apart. Kind of a "last hurrah" before I move back.

I trust her. And on a purely rational level, I am OK with this, even though I don't have any desire to see other people myself. My girlfriend is proposing a "don't ask don't tell" policy, and we have come up with various rules and boundaries that I think make sense. We also agreed to trial it for just 3 months until we next meet, at which point she thinks she may even have gotten things out of her system and be happy to revert to monogamy. However, I am a bit worried that this may not be as simple as flicking a switch on and then off again. ie I am worried about the unintended emotional consequences. I must admit the thought of her with other guys makes me queasy, and I have no idea if I will be able to quell the feelings of jealousy that could result. Any pointers on making such an arrangement work, or cautionary tales of the pitfalls?
posted by kramer1975 to Human Relations (65 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
If just thinking about it makes you queasy, then no. Why invite drama? Recipe for heartache.
posted by Jubey at 3:07 AM on October 6, 2011 [6 favorites]

What it sounds like to me is that there's a hot new guy at work/in her building/that she met in a coffee shop that she wants to hook up with and see what pans out. But she doesn't want to break up with you (in case things fall through with the new guy) because you're a good back-up plan.

Are you cool with being her back-up plan?

To be clear, I don't think there's anything wrong with open/poly relationships in general (though I will say they're not for me), but since this is coming out of the blue for you guys it sounds like there's something different (and very one-sided) going on here. Proceed with caution.
posted by phunniemee at 3:10 AM on October 6, 2011 [22 favorites]

Response by poster: Just to clarify. This is not coming out of the blue. We have discussed it before. And I am very secure about the relationship. Nothing at all has changed in her attitude to me of late -- we continue to speak multiple times a day, etc.
posted by kramer1975 at 3:13 AM on October 6, 2011

The first thing that came to my mind was, "having her cake and eating it too." Alternatively, I think she's on the path to breaking up with you.
posted by easily confused at 3:14 AM on October 6, 2011 [7 favorites]

I don't think you're really going to get much choice about this, either way.

Ask yourself which is worse - that she should meet and fall in love with someone else during this 'open' time, or that she should commit to a monogamous relationship with you and forever wonder what she's missed?

I'd say your best path from this point is to try to take a mental and emontional step back from this relationship, let her do what she needs to do, and see how things lie three months from now.
posted by le morte de bea arthur at 3:16 AM on October 6, 2011 [18 favorites]

What it sounds like to me is that there's a hot new guy at work/in her building/that she met in a coffee shop that she wants to hook up with and see what pans out

Or she's telling the truth and sees him as "the one" but for some reason she feels like she'll regret it if she never has the chance to 'play the field'.

I'm in my late 20s and have been with my partner since I was 19 (he was my first). Drunken one night stands and no-strings attached flings are experiences that are missing from my youth. In the grand scheme of things, I don't regret it. Some people do regret it and feel they're missing out - or feel like they like would regret it if they didn't do it.
posted by missmagenta at 3:20 AM on October 6, 2011 [2 favorites]

Don't ask/don't tell will mess you up over long distance - especially if it's totally one-sided. What's best? - having a bit of her with loads of jealously and drama, or having none of her with a clear understanding of why it couldn't work right now. The kinder thing for both of you would be to effectively break-up. Easier or both of you in the long run to make that distinction now and move on with love and respect intact, should you both be single in the same city again.
posted by freya_lamb at 3:29 AM on October 6, 2011 [7 favorites]

Both of us have a long-term commitment in mind.

One of you clearly does not and if she thinks ya'll will just get back together when you return, she's not being realistic. More importantly, she hasn't done what she set out to do, date around. She's keeping you around as an emotional safety net of sorts while she goes exploring and wants you to be ok with that.

Are we courting disaster?

Being a couple means being together and sharing experiences. What the hell are you two going to talk about during those multiple conversations a day? How excited she is about fucking someone else? Are you going to be ok with having your calls go to voice mail because she's out on a date? Are you going to be able to resist asking questions? Will you be able to focus on your job knowing that your girlfriend is out living it up without you? Will you be able to let this go when you return?

Yeah, you're courting disaster and if you guys want to do this, ya'll should recognize that the relationship could be negatively impacted and destroyed. This idea could work, but really, 9 times out of 10, this doesn't work out for the couples I've seen try this. She made a choice to be with you a while ago. Now that you're suddenly not physically around, she wants to sample a few other morsels to see if she made the right decision? What the hell? Was this proposed before you got this out of town job? Why not?

That said, maybe she's feeling scared about being committed for the rest of her life, which is understandable. Maybe she wants to have the feeling of being "free" without necessarily having wild sex orgies. Maybe she just wants to feel like she has a choice and is making one. Maybe this actually work out ok.

posted by Brandon Blatcher at 3:52 AM on October 6, 2011 [17 favorites]

Great Idea.

My girl friend told me the same under similar circumstances two month before she left me.
posted by yoyo_nyc at 4:01 AM on October 6, 2011 [7 favorites]

My personal opinion has already been stated here.
I don't think you're really going to get much choice about this, either way.
But there are other opinions by more knowledgable people than myself. [Dan] Savage has for 20 years been saying monogamy is harder than we admit.
posted by nickrussell at 4:04 AM on October 6, 2011

This will complicate your relationship. You can try to convince yourself that "don't ask don't tell" will work because you won't know about it since she won't speak about it. What will happen when your curiosity takes over and you ask? There is a good chance that you will not be happy to hear the answer(s) when you ask.

You may want to consider if it is healthier for you to end this relationship and let her have her way and then decide on picking up this relationship if you go back. You will be happier even though it will be difficult now.

You may never know the truth of what she is doing or not doing because you are not physically together. Heck, even if she lived in the same city, she could still date other men and not tell you all about it.

I think her having this discussion with you is her covering her behind. If ever there is a disagreement about what happened, she could say that you said it was okay. The other thing is, she may be curious about someone else and doesn't want to feel guilty about exploring a relationship with him.

All my best to you.
posted by Yellow at 4:08 AM on October 6, 2011

You've got to be completely okay with this. But you don't seem to be able to shrug your shoulders and say, "It's cool." Therefore, you must address this with your girlfriend.

Every relationship is different, and yours is what you make of it. Don't let anyone else define it for you. If you're not happy or satisfied within your own relationship, that's a matter to be resolved between the two of you alone. But you need to both come away from the resolution satisfied.

You don't want to feel queasy, and you suspect this situation may result in jealousy. These feelings may be rational or irrational, reasonable or unreasonable, and they may be your problems alone, for you to get over. But they are there nonetheless, in the context of your relationship. Address these matters with your girlfriend immediately.

Be prepared to change your worldview, but don't be a pushover. If you actually can't find a way to be okay with this, and she insists on going ahead with it anyway, it would be better for you to break up than for you to acquiesce unhappily.
posted by paleyellowwithorange at 4:12 AM on October 6, 2011 [3 favorites]

I've seen a single-partner-requested open relationship work out exactly once—except that she ended up breaking up with him (again) anyway much later. What it signaled to me was that even if she thought she was, she wasn't genuinely committed to the relationship. She didn't love him.

That said, who knows. As someone else said, maybe.

I think the most pertinent point made above (by several people) is that this is going to be problematic, one way or another, if you're not totally okay with it. She may end up coming back to you with open arms, but this also could taint how you view the relationship. Whether or not you could get past that depends on both your personality and the tenor of your relationship (in the past, present, and future).
posted by divisjm at 4:16 AM on October 6, 2011 [2 favorites]

Having a last hurrah with other people is the same thing as wanting a break from you because you're not interested in reciprocating. (BTW good question to ask, what if you wanted to have a last hurrah as well, would she be supportive of that?)

In three months time after she has sown her oats or whatever, she will be a different person. She will have experienced things without you, things you are agreeing she will not be sharing with you afterwards. This don't ask, don't tell strategy is going the opposite direction of a developing relationship.

I would say you call a spade a spade and break up. You can always try and pick things up again when you move there and be totally honest with each other about how the break up period went, but I don't think it's fair for her to put you in some box on hold while she figures out if she's missing out on something.
posted by like_neon at 4:30 AM on October 6, 2011 [2 favorites]

As others have said, you seem uncomfortable, so this is a bad idea. I have seen poly relationships work, but only when both partners are fully committed. If you do open things up, you should have some strict ground rules--is dating allowed or only one night stands? Do you tell each other about the people you see? Can she date people you both know (assuming that's not an option for you)?

Don't be selfless here. If you don't really want to date other people then don't do it.
posted by chaiminda at 4:31 AM on October 6, 2011

If my S.O. suggested this, I would be buying her a one-way ticket to Dumpsville. I hate to be the one coming in and poo-pooing the whole thing, but also - you're going to be moving to her? From my point of view, I would not be happy about the whole thing.

In a similar situation, I would expect a long-distance partner to be sending out signals that say "I am committed to this relationship", not... not suggesting that they date other people. This seems like a terrible idea all the way through.
posted by The River Ivel at 4:40 AM on October 6, 2011 [3 favorites]

Your "queasy" feelings are a red flag here. If you are feeling jealous at the thought of this, the reality will be a lot worse.

My husband and I had the same sort of deal when we were long distance boyfriend/girlfriend - theoretically either of us was allowed to sleep with other people (although we agreed to let the other know if it happened). Turned out neither of us met anyone during that time that we were interested in, so it didn't happen.

Once we were married we were kind of theoretically open too - we always thought we wouldn't mind if the other person slept with someone else if it was just for sex; not a love thing. But again, we agreed to tell the other person if it happened (and actually, to double check beforehand, in case the other person changed their mind). My husband did end up sleeping with someone a couple of years ago, and I found it harder to deal with than I had thought. Mainly because I was never 100% sure that it really was just sex. Mostly that wasn't me not trusting him; it was that I didn't know the woman very well and so couldn't form my own judgments about what she wanted.

In your case, you would most likely have no idea who the other guy(s) were and what they were after. You would probably be constantly second-guessing whether she was about to leave you for one.

I don't think you should do this unless you can talk your concerns through and find ways to be more comfortable with the situation. (For me, that involved meeting my husband's casual bonk a few times, and also him talking to me a fair bit more than we had anticipated about the details of what was going on between them. Weirdly, that helped a bit.)
posted by lollusc at 4:41 AM on October 6, 2011 [1 favorite]

oh wow... I've been in a long term relationship before, so I know what they're like - pure emotional torture. and that's when things are good. this one sounds like a nightmare in the making.

if she genuinely thinks you are 'The One', she wouldn't (and shouldn't) even be considering seeing other people. despite what she says, she is clearly not committed to a long term future with you. she's like a monkey swinging through the trees, grabbing hold of the next branch before letting go of the last one. been there, had that done to me.

she's going to find someone else, or she's going to enjoy playing the field. either way, you're gonna get dumped. so do it to her first and retain your dignity and self-respect.

good luck to you man.
posted by alan2001 at 4:53 AM on October 6, 2011 [3 favorites]

My red flag sensors are flashing too. At this stage, with the end in sight, I think a more usual position from her would be ZOMG MY HONEY IS COMING BACK SOON!!

Instead, she asks for an open relationship? Just for a few months? Why now?

My money's on her having met someone she has a crush on, and not wanting to choose between passing up the opportunity for a fling, and breaking up with you.

Come on dude - be honest. You don't really want this "solution" of hers. Either be honest and tell her that, or suggest you both have a relationship break, and re-assess when you're back in town.
posted by greenish at 4:58 AM on October 6, 2011 [4 favorites]


"My girlfriend is proposing a "don't ask don't tell" policy"

that's just a fancy way of saying "we have agreed to keep secrets from each other" - which I'm sure you agree is a terrible idea. what if she gets good at it? how could you possibly trust her again?

run... run like the wind! and enjoy your new job without being an emotional train wreck, constantly wondering what she's up to.
posted by alan2001 at 5:00 AM on October 6, 2011 [2 favorites]

It's a con. If she was that into you then she'd be that into you.
posted by the noob at 5:05 AM on October 6, 2011 [4 favorites]

There's an awful lot of speculation her motives and her feelings in this thread. OP, please disregard it. You are in a relationship with your girlfriend, and we don't know anything about how she's feeling or what she wants. Please don't listen to people telling you that "she's not that into you" - really, what does that even mean? Don't let that additional (unecessary, imho) pain cloud your judgement, please.

You, however, have said plainly that you feel jealous and queasy at the thought of her even casually dating others. There is your answer. You really don't need to ascribe a lack of feeling on her part, or some manipulative ulterior motive to her request in order to say "no." It is not selfish. It is how you feel and what you want.

Lest you feel like you are coming from some place of selfishness or lack of confidence, it is the RIGHT thing to do to stand up for what you want in a relationship. If you go with something that makes you terribly uncomfortable and unahppy, you damage yourself and the relationship.

I have been in a long-term open relationship before. My current boyfriend and I, in fact, were not exclusive for something like the first two years of our relationship (we've been together for four). I was alright with it because I was not ready to make a major commitment - even though I didn't really "date around" so much, I used the openness to focus on my career and just do what I wanted without having to cart my SO around everywhere or put his feelings first in every decision I made. It was still VERY difficult for me even though I saw a benefit. I was mostly fine with it except for those times when it would be a Friday night and I couldn't reach him. If I sent a text and didn't get an answer. There was really only one reason that would happen, and it would make me really, really, REALLY uncomfortable. I could never go back to that place again. You say your communication with her is frequent and great now - how will you feel if that happens?

If I were you I would hold my ground and say "if you want to really play the field, you're going to have to do it without me."
posted by pazazygeek at 5:11 AM on October 6, 2011 [10 favorites]

If I was expecting something to work out successfully, I probably wouldn't name it 'don't ask don't tell.'
posted by box at 5:14 AM on October 6, 2011 [14 favorites]

The time to "just date around and have fun" was before she entered a committed relationship with you.

This is a terrible, terrible idea, and I'm shocked that you agreed to it. Why did you, when the thought of her with other guys makes you queasy and it's clearly something you don't want?

If I had to guess, I'd say she's moving down the path of breaking up with you -- not necessarily consciously in her own mind, but as something that's going to happen. Maybe not. But even if not, this is a horrible idea.

The problem, I think, is that you don't have a choice. She wasn't willing to give you the option to veto this. Which gives you two options: (1) trying not to think about it and hoping for the best, and (2) breaking up with her.
posted by J. Wilson at 5:19 AM on October 6, 2011 [1 favorite]

I have seen this work for some people -- they have the flexibility and ability to forgive or ignore that makes what is a no-go for other people just not be a big deal.

But it doesn't sound like you are that person. Like pazazygeek says:

You, however, have said plainly that you feel jealous and queasy at the thought of her even casually dating others. There is your answer.

Trust your gut and be honest about your needs and desires. If your gut is ok with this, then great. Otherwise, I predict that anytime she doesn't answer the phone on the first ring, you are going to be wondering if some scraggly guy is giving her multiple orgasms and a case of herpes, and those aren't fun thoughts.

The other part of the answer here is that just as some people can't be monogamous, and other people can't handle an open relationship, some people just can't handle long distance relationships. They are hard and intense and kind of miserable. I'd never willingly take on one again (other than a short, temporary thing with a very defined end date), for example. Your choice here might really be between the open relationship and finding an end to the LDR (either by moving to the same place, or breaking up), not between open and monogamous as you are suggesting.
posted by Forktine at 5:26 AM on October 6, 2011

If all is well a year down the track, I am planning to move back to the same city so that we can be together.

Dating other people makes it significantly less likely that all will be well in a year. Poly relationships are significantly different from what you're describing, and so can go well when multiple partners are involved. But this situation is a way to dilute your commitment at just the time (separation) when you should do the most to keep it concentrated. If your goal as a couple is long-term commitment, this is a bad idea.
posted by OmieWise at 5:31 AM on October 6, 2011

By and large, straight people all think this is a path to ruin and that you're being cuckolded. I find that irrational.

I'm sorry to say, you're going to have to talk this out to death with your girlfriend. It may get boring! I'm not really a fan of lopsided non-monogamy but then: I also don't like spicy food but my partner LOVES spicy food, so sometimes I just eat bread and rice at dinner while he goes to town on it. The difference being, in that case, we're still at dinner together. Also I have to bring him the Maalox.

Okay that is a tortured analogy, though weirdly accurate (sometimes the partner has to pick up the pieces after their partner's sexcapade or fling!), but my point is: this kind of stuff does work out for people all the time. (And I feel like you're getting a funny sample size here of anecdata.)

Your question is: Any pointers on making such an arrangement work, or cautionary tales of the pitfalls?

Yes: The Ethical Slut.


Here's, honestly, where I think the pitfall is: the don't ask don't tell policy. This can work for some people? Except I think that it sounds attractive going in, and then in reality, your mind is awhir with imaginations. She doesn't pick up the phone? OH MY GOD SHE'S DOING SOME GUY. She's vague about last night? OH LORD SHE WAS AT A SWINGER'S CLUB. Then your brain is off to the races.

And now, because of your arrangement, she's not going to fix those impressions.

I was once in a committed non-monogamous relationship where one party had a "Don't Tell Me Anything" policy and the other party had a "You Must Disclose All" policy. It worked really pretty well actually! But that's because everyone involved honed in on exactly what they wanted the process to be, so they could be comfortable. You don't sound totally there yet.

If I were in your shoes, and this is what my partner wanted, I would have no problem. To be frank: I don't believe her ladyparts are her heart! But you might, a little. You have centuries of historical imperative about relationships weighing on your mind, and this might not "naturally" be who you are, and it makes you nervous.

So it might be impossible. Only you can know.
posted by RJ Reynolds at 5:49 AM on October 6, 2011 [8 favorites]

Unless you are completely comfortable with the thought of her repeatedly fucking the same guy (who isn't you) every which way up and until the day before you get back, then this is a recipe for disaster. "Don't ask, don't tell?" Come off it. That doesn't stop you from thinking about it. Unless the concept of you sitting at home on a Friday night wondering "whose dick is she sucking right now?" doesn't phase you in the slightest, don't try and do this.

If she really wants a long-term relationship with you, then she has to accept that certain sacrifices must be made on both your parts. Getting to date around is one of them. Sorry.
posted by modernnomad at 5:50 AM on October 6, 2011 [2 favorites]

she doesn't want an open relationship. she doesn't want a last hurrah.

and she doesn't want you in the picture because she doesn't want to be encumbered by guilt or any obligation to include you in her thoughts about what she wants for and how she's going to get.

Because what she wants is to fuck other men.

end of story.
posted by BadgerDoctor at 6:10 AM on October 6, 2011

If it were me, I wouldn't go out of my way to move back to her city.
posted by empath at 6:12 AM on October 6, 2011

When I was young, I really thought I would regret never having had any sort of casual sex. I was wrong. I'm just one anecdote, but I can see how she might genuinely be afraid of future regret that will never actually happen.

Keeping an eye to the future, I haven't seen that sort of regret actually cause damage to a relationship. It seems unlikely. I can't imagine someone being in a genuinely happy relationship that they sabotaged because of a regret that they didn't sow their wild oats a decade earlier. I can see that sort of regret only as an excuse to get out of a relationship that they don't want to be in for other reasons.

So I think that your girlfriend honestly thinks she's going to regret not playing the field, and honestly thinks that that regret will damage your relationship, but unless she's unhappy with the relationship for other reasons, that scenario that she honestly believes in won't actually happen.

Of course, my experience is limited, and I'm willing to accept anecdotal evidence that contradicts my own.
posted by yeolcoatl at 6:15 AM on October 6, 2011 [1 favorite]

I can't make any comment as to whether you are capable of an open relationship, but I think for them to work, a lot of honesty has to be involved. Don't ask don't tell is sort of the opposite of that.

I tried a DADT open situation that i wasnt super thrilled about. My bf at the time cited all the same one last hurrah reasons. I was suspicious and miserable. I really did wonder if another girl was in his bed every time his phone went to voicemail. And, insult to injury, he passed along an STD.

If YOU are ok with an open relationship, then by all means go for it. But it doesn't sound like you are. I suspect DADT will not be blissful ignorance; it will be paranoia.
posted by chatongriffes at 6:18 AM on October 6, 2011

I think it's clear you don't want an open relationship. I'm not sure why you're asking the question. A million "just let her do it" answers are unlikely to change how you feel about the idea.
posted by SMPA at 6:22 AM on October 6, 2011

You dated in person for 7 months and now you're 2 months in to a 1 or 2 year long distance patch? If I were her and didn't have the balls to dump you but was hoping you would meet someone else or take the hint and make breaking up moot, this is exactly what I would do.

If I were you and wanted it to work, I'd want some level of telling. There's a difference between going and getting drinks, having casual sex, and developing feelings for someone else, and not knowing would drive me insane.
posted by J. Wilson at 6:25 AM on October 6, 2011

You are the sole full-time, permanent resident of your comfort zone - so it is very much up to you to figure out its limits, push them occasionally, and reinforce them when the need arises.

If you feel like you are not sure about how you stand regarding opening your relationship, you could try to draw up a road-map, and take it in steps, with the understanding that the deal is off should you find it too much at any stage. So, maybe she lets you know before something happens? Etc. If you are really considering doing this, maybe seek very specific advice from people who have experience with this kind of stuff - how do they navigate such situations? A kind of step-by-step guide is what I am thinking of. For instance, once she finds a person she would like to be open with, do you get to talk to them? (Sorry, I am jumping the gun here, but so many people upthread have said that "Don't ask don't tell" is a bad idea, and I tend to agree with that, that I am writing as though that were not the proposed strategy for dealing with this). How comfortable would you want to be with this other person being around before she can go ahead? etc. Maybe people who have experience with poly/open relationships can tell you what works and what not, and why.

The risk is that, even with all the best intentions in the world (on your part, on her part), you end up terribly hurt and yucked out and furious. If you get even a slight hint that this might be on the cards if you proceed with the open relationship scenario, I think it is best to call it off, and consider if you still want to be in the relationship - interrupting something before getting to the inevitable point of hurt and anger gives you the chance to remember it all as "that wonderful relationship which ended because we were, after all, incompatible", or "right person, bad timing", rather than develop insecurities and fears and anger which might be more difficult to deal with and might mar your future relationships (not to mention STDs).
posted by miorita at 6:36 AM on October 6, 2011 [1 favorite]

Are we courting disaster?

The disaster part has already happened. You just haven't been informed yet.
posted by mhoye at 6:41 AM on October 6, 2011 [14 favorites]

If you're dating an amazing girl for 7 months and you're so committed to this relationship, why take a job halfway around the world for a year or two?

Yeah, sorry, but I have to turn this question on its head. I think you're the one who wants to have your cake and eat it too. You want this job experience but you also want her to wait around for a year so you can come back if all is well.

My first inclination is to just set her free. You can still talk but with no expectation of commitment. Hook up when you're back in town if you want, and then if you're both available when you're finally done with this job then try it again.

Another part of me says what difference does it make. I have some experience in this area, meeting someone who was long distance and having her say that she wasn't going to stop seeing other people until we moved near each other and decided to be exclusive. I didn't like it and there were a lot of feelings, but eventually I just came to the conclusion that when she was with me, she was with me, and when she wasn't, she wasn't. All you have to do is just not be jealous. My situation didn't work out, but maybe it might have if circumstances were different. My experience isn't yours.

I also believe you really have to negotiate this deal both ways. Even if you don't want to sleep with other people right now, get that as part of the deal. If nothing else, make her confront what her feelings would be if the situation were reversed.
posted by cali59 at 6:51 AM on October 6, 2011 [3 favorites]

Many interesting and smart responses here. I am older guy and fairly jealous. My instinct would be: if you need to play for a time, then have your fun. I don't need it. So farewell.
posted by Postroad at 7:11 AM on October 6, 2011 [1 favorite]

Yikes, yea...a lot of "your girlfriend is an evil slut/is already betraying you" here. You trust her, and have made that clear, so I'd encourage you to disregard such sentiments at will!

You seem to have a grasp on the complexity of situation, or else you probably would be dumping her already. There's a trade-off here: YOU moved away. She doesn't want to be miserable, and center her entire life around your return. And she's honest enough that she's brought up what might be a balancing factor for her!

You aren't quite OK with her demands. Do you want to be OK? Here's the cool thing: it's not easy or straightforward, but YES, you CAN make it work! Poly/open people aren't magical beings free of jealousy! Check out some books (The Ethical Slut is great), be proactive about it. "Don't ask, don't tell" is a cool policy for details ("Guess what? His penis was 9 inches!") but not in general.

There's a huge amount to be said on opening up a relationship, but here's my personal anecdotal contribution: You may want to set up some boundaries for her. It may turn out that she doesn't need to have full on encounters with her other partners. I've learned that simply making out and being affectionate someone I'm attracted to completely relieves that "OH MY GOD, I WANT SO&SO, WHAT I DO, AH I MUST BE FREE!! TIME TO BREAK UP" feeling that I've ended a lot of relationships over.

Don't torture yourself and know that compromise is your right.
posted by supernaturelle at 7:15 AM on October 6, 2011 [1 favorite]

(I'm amplifying here, but I applaud your open mindedness and encourage your experimental attitude. I am speaking to the phosphors on my LCD.)

I am sure slavery is illegal. You do not own her. She does not own you.

I am just as sure monogamy is legal, but I am not sure it ever existed. There is a lot of wishful thinking bullshit out there that folks WANT to be true, but monogamy is like god, an idealized figment of the imagination of weak minded humans. We fuck. We fantasize. We wander. We stray. In reality, the real anomaly is when we don't. Recognizing this and embracing it will save you eons of grief down the road.

What are you afraid of? Are you not convinced of your own awsomeness? If she isn't, then she might not be the best person for you.

Look, if she finds someone better, she finds someone better. What's wrong with that? Do you like this woman as a human? If so, might I suggest that you want the best for her? That would be that she commits to the best of her options. Do you really want her to be with you if you are second best in her mind? How else will she find out?

Would you take MY directions to settle on who you should settle for? No! Why? Because I am not you and it is not my place to make this decision for you. How could it be that you could make such decisions for her?

Some posters here suggest you say "No" to this and that it's a bad idea. I suggest you say "Yes" and if you eventually do link up for good, keep saying it. The only valid reason for staying together is because you WANT to. You should always compete to be the best choice. To do otherwise is a disservice to the one you say you love.
posted by FauxScot at 7:16 AM on October 6, 2011 [5 favorites]

She's probably already gone ahead with it. This seems like an attempt to get retroactive permisson to me. The relationship is over either way. The question is how long you're going to subject yourself to this.
posted by spaltavian at 7:19 AM on October 6, 2011

Your relationship is very young. I wasn't aware that the 7 year itch had become the 9 month itch.

If it were me, I'd leave now with my dignity and self-respect intact.
posted by jingzuo at 7:20 AM on October 6, 2011

You don't sound at ease with this decision, even though you want to. I understand you might think you're losing a great thing but let's be real. Some of us want monogamous relationships. Monogamy, IMO, is truly required if you want a real emotional connection with your significant other. This business of "let me experiment with other people" isn't good and definitely doesn't indicate marriage or commitment material. Just call it for what it is... a break up. She has to respect you if she wants to be with you. That should be your bottom line. Jealousy is within us for a reason. We're emotional thinking creatures who depend on other people, even the healthiest of individuals. It's OK to not be OK with this arrangement. You don't have to change for her.
posted by InterestedInKnowing at 7:32 AM on October 6, 2011 [1 favorite]

This did not work when I tried it (in very similar circumstances - 7 months together in the same city, then long-distance. It was entirely his idea though).
- He cheated the "don't ask, don't tell" policy by making comments like, "Just so you know, I'm not seeing anyone." - to which I would respond with "Oh, okay," since I didn't want to lie to him but also didn't want to tell him about other people I was seeing. Later I discovered that he found the implication that I was seeing other people totally infuriating.
- Turned out he was seeing other people too, though, although he may have stopped making those comments by that point. I wasn't particularly irked that he had been seeing other people, but the hypocrisy of his anger at me for seeing other people still really rankles.
- In a way it is still very limiting. You can't really date around if it's a foregone conclusion in your mind that the person you're going on a date with absolutely will never turn into a relationship, because you've already got one of those. You can, of course, sleep around a lot - and that is precisely what I did for awhile, and if that is really, truly, all she wants to do, then that is ok I guess, but personally I found myself frequently going on one or two dates with a person, then getting freaked out about what-if-I-like-this-person too-much, and promptly dropping that fling and moving on to the next one. I ended up missing out on the possibility to explore other guys who might have actually been better for me than my boyfriend. Now, obviously, you don't want your girlfriend getting serious about anyone else, but ultimately I found the whole thing very unsatisfying (not because I have a problem with casual sex, but because it didn't even leave open the opportunity for anything more to develop) and, crucially, unhelpful in the process of making a solid determination about whether I was actually ready to be committed to my boyfriend long-term. I'm not sure this point entirely makes sense- I hope it did, sort of...?
- Eventually, though, I met someone else that I couldn't stop seeing. And my boyfriend did too. And we had a nasty, bitter breakup that ended in a huge fight and we haven't spoken since (about a year and half ago now). I never loved anyone as deeply as I loved him, and now he's an ex that I have zero contact with and have really ugly feelings towards. I really wish things could have at least ended on more friendly terms, but there was just too much anger and resentment and blame for that to happen.
posted by naoko at 7:54 AM on October 6, 2011

You know, unfortunately, even if you say no... this kind of isn't your choice to make. She wants to date other people. If you say no, she may go ahead and break up with you to do it. She may do it and not tell you. Or she may not do it and fester resentment and "what could have been" and anger and break up later.

To me, no, this doesn't bode well for the future of your relationship -- as others have said, this isn't a good sign; I think you have valid concerns about not being able to flip back to monogamy and unexpected emotional consequences. I think it would be better for your peace of mind if you broke up and were just friends and then when you return to her city, see if your paths lead you back together. The odds aren't good, but as I said, I don't think you have much of a choice.

That said, you really never know. She may well have forgotten how really crappy dating can be, and how what looks so great from the safety and sometimes less-than-dazzling security of a solid relationship can be a lot less fun when you're dealing with people who seem great but turn out to be liars or gameplayers or worse.
posted by lemniskate at 8:10 AM on October 6, 2011

I agree with lemniskate and others who've said you really have no choice. I also agree that you should just break up. I mean, really, dating long distance while she dates other people is essentially pretty much broken up anyway - it's hard enough to date long distance and once you add in this dating-other-people thing, what's really left of your relationship anyway?

Break up, let her do her thing but free yourself from the "omg she isn't answering the phone because she's on a date" possibility. She'll probably respect you more for breaking up with her (at least, I would in her shoes), and who knows - she may go on a couple dates with other people and realize she wants to be back together and monogamous with you again.
posted by whitelily at 8:17 AM on October 6, 2011

As a counterpoint to all the poly hatred in here - my relationship opened up under similar circumstances, and no, I wasn't out to bone my cute coworkers behind my husband's back. Give the woman a little credit, people! The only thing you know about her is that she's OP's girlfriend of 7 months. Yikes. Anyway, we're still happily married many years later. The desire to see other people ebbs and flows and had a lot to do with how young we married and the experiences we felt we missed out on. Dating and sometimes casual sex has filled in that experience gap and made us much happier overall.

I would recommend against opening a long-distance relationship, though. Wait until you're together to do it, and don't do "don't ask, don't tell" if you're feeling at all uncomfortable with your own jealousy. The hypotheticals you'll make up in your brain will drive you nuts. Complete honesty and trust is comforting.
posted by theraflu at 8:36 AM on October 6, 2011 [3 favorites]

like Theraflu above me I came to say that not all relationships are the same and that even though you do have a choice not to do it...why don't you give it a try and see how it goes? If it doesn't work out is not for you...but if it does who knows...I know that once you have the freedom to go out there and date you also often tend to remember just how tedious it is...
posted by The1andonly at 9:22 AM on October 6, 2011

Only someone that's very young could think this would work. You're going to find out very quickly that you do want to know, and then once you do, forget it. You'll be mentally tortured either way. Give her an ultimatum. Drop her if she says no.
posted by xammerboy at 9:23 AM on October 6, 2011

I'm not seeing any poly-hatred... I'm seeing a lot of thoughtful commenters addressing the OP's clear unease with this.

OP, I'll repeat it: if you're uncomfortable and queasy about this, that is your answer. Poly/open relationships are good for people who feel comfortable and generally OK with them. You do not. That's fine. It's not a judgment on polyamory, it's a recognition of your own individual preferences. You should honor those, because by honoring them, you honor the person you eventually end up in a committed relationship with. (Likewise, if you were actually OK with poly, then being open and honest about it – honoring those individual preferences – you would be honoring your partners and their right to choose as well.)

Now for the personal input part (my own). I too had this happen to me. I, like you (and I'm a woman FWIW, partner was a man), felt queasy with the suggestion, and honored that queasiness. I told my partner that I do not do open relationships, so if he wanted to date/sleep with other women, we needed to break up. He apologized, said he meant no harm, and that he wanted to continue seeing me exclusively.

This Saturday, just two months after he had asked me if an open relationship would be okay, he was visiting my place, got an SMS and blurted out, "I need to step outside and phone this woman I started dating. She wouldn't like it if she heard your cat, she knows I don't have one."

Yep. He had started dating another woman while "being exclusive" with me, after announcing that he'd like to try playing the field during a long-distance period. I have to echo the many other posters who have said that there's a good chance you don't actually have a choice; she may already have made hers. YMMV.
posted by fraula at 9:23 AM on October 6, 2011 [4 favorites]

As a counterpoint to all the poly hatred in here

This isn't about poly-hatred. The whole point here is that this is not a poly relationship, and allowing a time-out to "play the field" prior to resuming monogamy does not make it into a poly relationship. I would expect a poly person with integrity to understand that difference, otherwise folks might end up deciding that the oft-repeated criticism that polys are selfish people who just want to sleep around, is true.
posted by OmieWise at 9:55 AM on October 6, 2011 [7 favorites]

If it's not something you want to do down the line, then don't get involved with it now.

It's okay if you're not comfortable with it and it's okay if you tell her that you don't like it. It's for some people and not for other people. Be true to yourself.
posted by inturnaround at 9:58 AM on October 6, 2011

I suppose "poly hatred" is an inaccurate phrase. I am seeing a number of assumptions about her intentions and moral values based on her sustained interest in an open relationship. It's a pervasive attitude that I encounter rather often in discussions like these and I think it's worthy of criticism. She sounds like she's new at thinking about non-monogamy and is making a few possibly-harmful logical leaps. But that's not a reason to DTMFA.

The thing with opening one's relationship is that someone has to be the one to suggest it first. It's like figuring out if a new friend smokes marijuana. Both parties are afraid to ask lest each earn the other's judgement. But in this situation, they've talked about it at length a number of times. Clearly it's up for discussion. If it weren't, he would have put the brakes on long ago.

Queasiness, jealousy and even guilt are totally normal reactions to the possibility of doing something risky, scary and new, let alone when deciding to go against a fundamental cultural tradition. The only way to know if one can deal with jealousy is to encounter it and to hear other people's experiences in order to draw one's own conclusions. Although most relationships are monogamous, most people are capable of the trust needed to sustain a non-monogamous relationship.

I do think OP should be concerned that she hopes to permanently revert to monogamy after a short time. Your ability to do so completely depends on each relationship. Anecdotally, we have been open and closed at various points throughout our eight-year relationship due to other life stressors, health issues, busy schedules or other stuff; her interest may ebb and flow, but permanently closing a formerly-open relationship isn't a practical hope.
posted by theraflu at 9:58 AM on October 6, 2011 [1 favorite]

Break up with zero contact, but with the plan on recontacting each other in 3 months to decide if you still like each other enough to continue (which is really just a nice way of say whether or not either of you have found a suitable replacement).

BTW- you don't "get things out of your system" in 3 months, particularly at her age. Either she's a monogamous-type person or not.

My take (which is worth next to nothing) is that she sounds like me when I was 18 and going to college, and had self-esteem that was too low to be alone. So I strung along my high school gf for a while while I screwed half of western Pennsylvania, for no other reason than needing a temporary emotional connection until I found someone better.
posted by coolguymichael at 10:16 AM on October 6, 2011 [2 favorites]

So I was younger than you guys are, but I once had been dating someone almost 3 years when (in August) I moved for grad school and they got a 1-2 year job abroad. I was the one who said "long distance will be too hard - we'll either want to get back together when you come back or we'll have moved on". So we agreed to break up provisionally, with the possibility we'd get back together. For the first several months we talked a lot via online chat, phone, etc. Things tapered off as we both got busy.

In December, he called to tell me he'd started dating someone else. Remember, I was the one who didn't want to be long-distance in the first place. Logically, I was totally fine with him dating someone else. I even told him he didn't have any obligation to tell me he was dating someone else. But I STILL felt emotionally "dumped" and crappy that he'd moved on before me (yes, this was selfish, but since I was the one who wanted to break up I had always assumed I'd move on first).

That's all just to say that even if you know it's a logical decision, even if you're the one who wants to end things, it can still sting really bad to feel "replaced". If you already feel queasy about it, there is no way I would leave your relationship ambiguous. Either break up for good, or break up while you are apart with a possibility for reunion someday. I would have felt so much worse, in my situation, if I had been the "backup girlfriend".
posted by nakedmolerats at 11:40 AM on October 6, 2011

I am just as sure monogamy is legal, but I am not sure it ever existed. There is a lot of wishful thinking bullshit out there that folks WANT to be true, but monogamy is like god, an idealized figment of the imagination of weak minded humans. We fuck. We fantasize. We wander. We stray. In reality, the real anomaly is when we don't. Recognizing this and embracing it will save you eons of grief down the road.


My female friends in graduate school who cheated on their significant others used to wax poetic about things like that. When I responded that I was monogamous (and who cares about fantasy? we're talking about actions, here), I routinely got eyes rolled at me. There's a lot of pressure in conversations like these for monogamy-minded individuals to open themselves up, and often the implication is that we're delusional or close-minded.

That's not true for everyone, and it might not be true to the OP. Perhaps this just isn't part of his nature--perhaps he has good reasons (like knowing his own capacity for jealousy, as postroad says) for questioning if this is appropriate for him.

I'm not saying that poly relationships can't work, because they do, and I've seen them. But you don't have a solid foundation to build a poly relationship on--nine months is nothing; you're really just getting to know one another, something exacerbated by those two months long distance. And you feel queasy thinking about it. That feeling is valid. You don't have to let her sleep around if you're not comfortable with it, and asking for monogamy doesn't make you some crazy fantasist.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 11:44 AM on October 6, 2011 [8 favorites]

Here is your situation, just in a much tighter space, with the roles reversed. Maybe you can resolve it the same way they do?
posted by matt755811 at 12:30 PM on October 6, 2011

Pointers, from one who has kinda sorta been there. Delve all the more into life where you're living. I moved a long way to a strange, fascinating country and time rocketed by in the first several months.

Because you agreed to three months of this, hard to see how your best interests are served by anything other than letting things breathe as best you can... in an amount of time that will be over before too long.

(At the risk of stating the obvious, if it ain't working fer ya when the three months are over, there's no real alternative to saying so, discussing options and letting the chips fall where they may.)
posted by ambient2 at 12:31 PM on October 6, 2011

Listen to Jeff Foxworthy on the topic:

"Guys, if a woman says to you 'I think we should start seeing other people,' trust me, she has already cut a pony from the herd, and if she ain't ridin' him yet, she has pulled the saddle out of the barn."
posted by megatherium at 2:24 PM on October 6, 2011 [3 favorites]

Ask her point blank if she already has someone in mind. Don't let her weasel out of the answer. Proceed from there.

But really I would probably agree to amicably break up and then see where you both stand when you return. If she needs one last hurrah do it for real.

I don't think you'll be able to logic your way out of feeling what you are feeling. I think allowing this would be more toxic to your relationship than breaking up and getting back together possibly.
posted by whoaali at 3:50 PM on October 6, 2011 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I'm in a similar situation at the moment, and I've told my girlfriend to go for it.

Long distance is tough. Most of the relationship is in your head, based upon what little contact you can get. If she loses her phone for a few days, or is very busy and can't get time to talk, or heads out bush for a while... suddenly there's no contact and it's so, so easy to wonder if things are still the same. Without having someone present that constantly reinforces the idea that they want to be with you, long distance is very fertile ground for suspicion and doubt.

I did it for a few years, and it's hard. If you have a concrete end date, that makes it easier. If you're in contact all the time, that makes it easier.

If she *might* be seeing someone else, that makes it harder.

I can well understand where she's coming from. She loves you completely, has no doubt that you're the one she wants to be with, but a) she misses the physical intimacy of being with someone, and b) she's always been a little jealous of people who have a couple of non-serious flings. From that point of view, it's fine. She can get a bit of fun, she loves you throughout, no worries.

The danger (if that's genuinely where she's coming from) doesn't lie with her at all. The danger lies with you - if you will be endlessly jealous, if you won't be able to get the idea of her with someone else out of your mind, if you will suspect every missed call or short conversation - then it's doomed. If you can accept that she loves you and will return to you, then it will be fine.

Personally, it doesn’t bother me. The way I see it, sex is fantastic and fun, so why should she miss out on it just because I’ve got an inconvenient job? I know we’re fantastic when we’re together, I have no doubt at all that if she did hook up with someone in the interim it’d only be a superficial thing, so it doesn’t really trouble me. That being said, it’s all hypothetical at this stage, as she has said she hasn’t really wanted to. Perhaps if she did, and it turned out I was starting to get jealous, then I would probably ask that it stop. It all comes down to you – no one here can tell you what her intentions are. Assuming she’s not just playing you, as some here suggest, then whether it works or not comes down to you. If you think you could be okay with it, then it could well be fine. If you suspect that you won’t handle it well (which is entirely reasonable), then you shouldn’t pretend it’s okay just to please her.
posted by twirlypen at 4:45 PM on October 6, 2011 [1 favorite]

My girlfriend and I had a two-way open relationship during a long distance period very early in our relationship (we meant to break up when I moved away, but it, um, didn't work). She had some flirtations, and I didn't--neither of us actually ended up sleeping with someone else. It was do ask, do tell. We were both fine with it.

There were some later problems for our relationship, but these were more related to the telling than the doing, to wit: she didn't really tell ALL, and it made me uncomfortable that I hadn't known about some feelings she'd had during that time, but ultimately it was fine. We're still quite happily together.

I agree that if you aren't comfortable with this, you shouldn't do it.
I agree that if you WANT to be comfortable with this, you may be able to get comfortable with it.
I agree that don't ask don't tell is a terrible idea.

Talk to your girlfriend more, think about it more. I agree with the minority of the posters here that the majority are jumping to conclusions about her feelings and purpose. I don't think this means she's not that into you, that she's going to do it regardless of what you say, or that this means your relationship is over.

And again, don't ask don't tell is a terrible idea. It's so much better to know--you can move past it. If you don't know when it happens, it WILL come up later and you will feel worse. I also think it's a good idea for you to be allowed to see other people, too. Whether you really do or not doesn't matter. She should be willing to grant you permission.
posted by snorkmaiden at 8:02 PM on October 6, 2011

Personally, it doesn’t bother me. The way I see it, sex is fantastic and fun, so why should she miss out on it just because I’ve got an inconvenient job? I know we’re fantastic when we’re together, I have no doubt at all that if she did hook up with someone in the interim it’d only be a superficial thing, so it doesn’t really trouble me.

With total 20/20 hindsight, I really, really, really wish that I had gone this route when I had a long distance relationship years ago, rather than all the drama we got into about rules and monogamy and then of course both of us doing other things. Tears were shed, etc. And all of that could have been avoided by listening to my gut to begin with, which said very clearly that either we needed to be in the same place or not be together in such an intense way.

I do know now, having tried it, that a long term, long-distance relationship doesn't work for me. Maybe a looser arrangement wouldn't have worked any better, but I'd be willing to try it now knowing how badly that the other option failed for me. (And everyone is different -- this is me, not some general statement about what works for everyone.)

The point being, of course, that none of this is easy, and what works for other people may well not work for you. Just like how some people while living together have sex twice a day, others have sex once a month, and both will tell you how they are doing it right, you need to find what works for you, not anyone else, even if that is weird or unusual.

My gut sense (and this is from having gone about things the other way, rather than saying that I have it all figured out), that I think it is a mistake to allow her to sleep around but with the imposition of all kinds of rules (eg kissing is ok, but no tongue; or fucking is ok, but condoms all the way). Yes, explain your needs, but honestly the best is to just treat being back together as a total restart/reboot of the relationship. Get whatever STD tests you need, rather than quizzing her about who touched what and who licked what, for example.

But again, it is your gut you should be listening to, not any of ours. Good luck.
posted by Forktine at 8:37 PM on October 6, 2011

This could work/has worked/can work. IF both people are totally cool with it. You sound pretty worried.

For what it's worth: I was in back to back LTR's (including a marriage!) in my twenties, and I went hogwild for 5 months last year. Now I'm back in a happily monogamous relationship, my yahyahs are well gone, and I couldn't be happier.

Not only that, but my current boyfriend asked me to be exclusive one week before I was going out of town last summer, when I had already planned to hook-up with my wedding date, and he said: "Maybe we could be exclusive when you get back from your trip?" MAJOR POINTS were scored for his non-clingy progressiveness. And now that we have decided we are monogamous, we are.

I think the point is not monogamy vs. non-monogamy, but that your relationship with your beloved is always on terms that you are comfortable with. If that is the former, yay. If that is the latter, yay. If that is the latter and then the former, yay. Or any combination. You get the point.

Love in a way that brings you joy, not worry. Go forth!
posted by whimsicalnymph at 9:32 AM on October 7, 2011

The activists and actors Ruby Dee and the late Ossie Davis were married for 57 years and they opened up their marriage for a time because they spent a lot of time apart. They set parameters. They didn't do it forever but it worked for them at that point of their lives. It didn't lead to ruin.

Good luck with whatever you decide to do (or not do).
posted by girlmightlive at 12:37 PM on October 7, 2011

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