Help, I accidentally an open marriage
December 17, 2018 5:29 AM   Subscribe

After a few years of marriage and kids, we decided that we might benefit from having an open relationship... now what?

We can be best described as friends and co-parents who make a pretty effective team most of the time. However, due to a number of factors related to personality and past circumstances, the emotional and intimate part of our marriage just isn't there anymore, and we do not currently have the ability or immediate desire to fix that. Being parents is probably the most important part of our lives, and we do not (at least at this point) feel the need to separate... and that's how we arrived at the open relationship. We seem to be on the same page, and we've been getting along better without various expectations and pressures about rekindling the marriage hanging over our heads. Great. Now how do I navigate an open relationship having never experienced anything besides long-term, monogamous ones... and with the added constraints of family... and without coming across as a creep or inviting judgment? Rhett, where shall I go? What shall I do?

I'm a straight dude in my mid-30s, and the last time I did anything resembling dating, Tinder did not exist. I'm not into hanging out at bars or similar IRL locations to meet random people, and my social circle has shrunk considerably over the past few years due to the constraints of parenting, so it won't be much help. I suppose what I am looking for is best described as friendship with benefits, but today's dating landscape is scary and unfamiliar. Are there apps better suited for my circumstances than others? Is there even a demographic interested in the same type of relationship, given my situation? If so, where do I find it, and how do I best engage it? Directions to specific resources, general advice, and personal experiences all appreciated.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (21 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
Okcupid has a lot of options to say if you're in a relationship already and looking to date non-monogamously. Definitely a not uncommon scenario, just be upfront and honest with everyone involved.

Some useful books:
- The Ethical Slut
- Opening up
- Sex at dawn
posted by JonB at 5:54 AM on December 17, 2018 [7 favorites]

I may not be the norm in this but as a single woman in my 30s (albeit a queer one) who keeps seeing folks on dating apps describing themselves as in newly-open relationships - it would be helpful to know what (in addition to whatever they have in their marriage) people are looking for and why. This relates a bit to what's described as "Activity Monogamy" in this article - what will make my relationship with someone special? Or to back up a little - in which (of the multiple ways listed in the article) are you available/non-monogamous?
posted by needs more cowbell at 6:00 AM on December 17, 2018 [14 favorites]

One useful feature of okcupid is the ability to link your profile to your partner's, so she can validate that this is actually above board and OK with everyone and you're not just messing around behind her back.

My primary relationship is open and I date casually/in an FWB way and men in your situation are my favourite kind to date, fwiw. I don't have a lot of time or emotional energy to dedicate to that part of my life, so it's better if my partners have other lives and commitments.
posted by corvine at 6:02 AM on December 17, 2018 [15 favorites]

Open relationships can be great! But this is the classic scenario where one or both of you falls in love or even just really realizes how much you’re missing and then you get divorced but with a fuckload more drama than you’d otherwise have.

Absent a rock-solid desire to stay married, this is not the best idea. Plenty of people would never ever ever leave their spouse who they’re head-over-heels for...but also want to fuck other people. Their spouse is actively supportive & happy for them to do it, not vaguely “on the same page.” That’s when this kind of thing works.

Anyway, lectures aside, you go to hotel bars and/or dating sites and/or anything you see on the reddit infidelity subreddit. Ideally, find women who are also married and unwilling to blow up their marriage, otherwise you risk really breaking a single woman’s heart. Realize that you can’t control your feelings and that you might fall in love.

Also, realize that your wife will almost certainly find it easier to get NSA sex and that either one of you might resent your spouse being willing to sleep with someone else, but not with you.

Oh and condoms. CONDOMS. Condoms.

Finally, don’t be rude. Treat your wife nicely, more nicely than the person you’re sleeping with. Don’t interrupt time with your wife to text her. Don’t skip out on your obligations for sex. Be 100% respectful of your wife. At the same time, remember that you have obligations to be kind and respectful towards everyone you’re intimate with. Don’t do shit like cancel last minute because your wife feels like it, unless that’s something you’ve been clear about from the get-go.

Good luck!
posted by Rock 'em Sock 'em at 6:02 AM on December 17, 2018 [59 favorites]

One thing to keep in mind is that your partner is likely to have waaaaaay more opportunities than you. Ultimately you may need to separate if you're thing to have a shot at your own happiness.
posted by Candleman at 6:11 AM on December 17, 2018 [3 favorites]

Before you do anything, you need to clarify for yourself exactly what you're looking for. This is not only more likely to get you and your wife what you want, but way more ethical toward the people you hope to date. If you're not 100% clear on your emotional availability, long term plans, and the time you realistically have available to them, it puts them in a crappy position.

If you're just looking for sex, that's cool. But your post makes it sound like you're probably also looking for an emotional connection, and if that's the case, you need to figure out what that looks like to you. Since you've never done anything like this before, you're liable to hit a steep learning curve, and it's your job to make that as painless as possible for your partners. A lot of people who open up marriages are functionally as immature as teenagers dating for the very first time (not because they're immature in life or careless, but because they don't understand going in what it's going to be like) and you need to do your best to minimize that.
posted by metasarah at 7:28 AM on December 17, 2018 [11 favorites]

You may have ended up at an open marriage accidentally but making it a successful open marriage is anything but accidental. The books JonB recommends are good places to start. As you can probably tell by the responses, open marriages/ nonmonogamy/poly is a kind of range and society as a whole is still way more accepting of monogamy than having an open relationship. Still, the numbers of Americans in such relationships (or at least claiming to be) seems to have grown at least based on my 10 years on OK Cupid, which makes it easy to signal that you are in such a relationship.

Nthing what Rock 'em Sock 'em said 1000%. Doing this is more work than not doing this; also, to do it well means being clear, communicating well, planning ahead, and doing whatever emotional labor you need your own damn fine self instead of pushing it off on the ladies.

If your wife does get a bunch of dates, initially, and you don't, for example, manners and morals requires that you suck up any hostile or hurt feels you have about that and share those feels with someone other than your wife and instead act as a cheerleader for your spouse. In my first open relationship, for example, I was excited for my partner when he met someone new and he was supportive of me when I went on dates. (Some people even find their sex lives reinvigorated after they open their marriages, btw. YMMV but it happens for a few.)

Adults these days get tested for STIs, including herpes and disclose their health status as well as ask for the test results and health status of potential partners. This is especially important if there is any chance whatsoever that you may have sex with your wife in the future, and it is equally important that your wife do the same. It may feel awkward but dude, it is your health and that affects not only you but also your family.

Read up on new relationship energy, which is a thing, as well as compersion. There are many relationship types, as Dan Savage frequently notes, including relationship that are about parenting or comfort rather than sex. If that is what you and your wife want, good for you. It is up to the two of you to decide that. As long as you are fully honest with anyone you date about your situation (married, no plans to divorce, looking for a FWB), then you cannot really break the heart of anyone you date if that person is grounded and realistic. Meeting people probably won't be as hard as it seems. Staying grounded, keeping the focus on your kids, etc., may be a bigger challenge but not necessarily. Good luck!
posted by Bella Donna at 7:28 AM on December 17, 2018 [6 favorites]

You don't mention your location, but there are hopefully polyam/ethical non-monogamy meetup (as in groups or mailing lists or discussion groups near you. Poly Speed Dating has some resources. More Than Two has resources as well (plus the accompanying book).
posted by mkb at 7:31 AM on December 17, 2018 [1 favorite]

Ok, first a caveat: As someone polyamorous, I think doing this sort of thing is paradoxically a lot easier when your "nesting partner" (the one you live with, have commitments to, in your case have kids with) is someone you're really, really excited about. Even if you're not having a ton of sex with each other, or any at all, and even if you're not in new-shiny-sparkly-twitterpated love with each other, it really helps to be super fired up about seeing your nesting partner happy, about getting to know a new side of them, about learning to communicate with them in new and different ways, and frankly about putting a shit-ton of work into your relationship with them. Without that excitement, it's sort of a recipe for drifting apart in an overcomplicated way, and an amicable divorce would be simpler and kinder.

I don't know which side of that you two are on. But you should think about it before you get into this.

With that caveat out of the way: One way to approach this would be to go make platonic friends with other people in open or polyamorous relationships. (Actually-platonic friends, with dating off the table. Since you're straight, try to make friends with other men.) Doing that will let you see how those people approach things, and will give you a source of advice when things get difficult.

A lot of places, there's an IRL poly community. It's often a pretty unwise choice of dating pool. (Like other alternative communities, it can attract a lot of drama and chaos even when everyone in it means well; it sometimes also attracts predators; and people in it are often already multiply-attached in complicated ways.) But it's a way to meet other nonmonogamous folks for friendship and information, most of whom will be perfectly nice if rather geeky. And some places the community holds actual workshops you can attend for information and advice. Either way, I think that sort of community connection can be more useful than books, since you get a lot of perspectives, you can ask questions and get personalized advice, and you can see with your own eyes how people handle situations.

The poly community, even as a source of purely platonic friendships, might not be right for you — especially if polyamory isn't a relationship style that you think makes sense. But for whatever relationship style does make sense for you, I think my advice would be the same: find people who do it IRL, make friends, and use them as a source of advice and support. Doing this stuff without community is really hard.
posted by nebulawindphone at 7:36 AM on December 17, 2018 [21 favorites]

Address up front with your spouse how you're going to handle other partners with your kids. Are you going to tell them you're dating? Is it "oh, Parent is going out with some friends for the night, we're going to have movie night in"? Are you okay with other partners meeting your kids and being family friends and hanging out for family occasions, like birthday parties and game nights? (This is us, we're the 14 year old's "adjacent adults", the best of family friends, and his guardians if something happens to his folks. I'm pretty sure he's starting to realize that his mom's attachment to my wife is more than just 'best friends', but as long as he's willing to ignore that, we're happy to let him). This is a position that will likely evolve over time, along with your relationships, but it's something to talk about now.
posted by joycehealy at 7:37 AM on December 17, 2018 [7 favorites]

As someone polyamorous, I think doing this sort of thing is paradoxically a lot easier when your "nesting partner" (the one you live with, have commitments to, in your case have kids with) is someone you're really, really excited about. Even if you're not having a ton of sex with each other, or any at all, and even if you're not in new-shiny-sparkly-twitterpated love with each other, it really helps to be super fired up about seeing your nesting partner happy, about getting to know a new side of them, about learning to communicate with them in new and different ways, and frankly about putting a shit-ton of work into your relationship with them. Without that excitement, it's sort of a recipe for drifting apart in an overcomplicated way, and an amicable divorce would be simpler and kinder.

Yes, this is exactly what I wish I had written. Sometimes poly people call your approach “relationship broken, add more people” and the conventional wisdom is that it’s a bad idea that will inevitably fail. I don’t know about all that; I think opening a relationship can improve it. But it REALLY really helps if you’re fundamentally committed to each other, respect each other, want to see each other happy, and are confident that opening the relationship is a good choice.
posted by Rock 'em Sock 'em at 7:41 AM on December 17, 2018 [5 favorites]

Yeah, it’s hard to know if this is just another path to divorce or really something that will work. Have you all been to a couples counselor who is friendly to open relationships? Is your wife also dating?

Reddit has a couple of boards, one for polyamory, one for non-monogamy, where you can find tons of threads from people in your situation, who are just opening up.

Tinder and OkCupid are your best bets for apps, and you do risk that co-workers and neighbors are other people you know will see you there and think you’re cheating and/or know you’re in an open marriage. OKC let’s you filter for non-monogamous types. In areas with enough non-monogamous folks, that’s a good way to find people. On either app, be upfront that you’re in an open relationship (“ethically non-monogamous” is the preferred term where I am). This will limit the people who will match with you but save you a lot of time and angry dates.

For what it’s worth, a friend of mine in an open marriage (I met him through OKC!) told me that his wife found it a lot easier to get individual dates, but he tended to have better overall dates. Meaning, she would have a higher number of dates, but his were more likely to be women he connected with. YMMV.
posted by bluedaisy at 7:53 AM on December 17, 2018 [2 favorites]

Oh, and regarding STIs: the default test for STIs in many places does not include HSV (herpes), so when you get screened and talk to other folks about that, make sure you know what you’re getting and what your results say.
posted by bluedaisy at 7:54 AM on December 17, 2018 [2 favorites]

I agree with much of the advice above.

To me, it sounds like you are talking about polyamory while actually engaging in a form of serial monogamy, to avoid the pain of ending your marriage.

I'm not saying that with any judgment but I would definitely spend a good amount of time thinking about that before dating. (Is there any rush? If so, what is it?)

I think the way you figure that out is "am I doing this to increase both my own and my spouse's happiness?" If so, then you may make it through the many hours of emotional labour and feelings to come. The advice to treat your wife the best is sound, and also to communicate with everyone with true integrity - which means figure out your own emotions and needs before you communicate them, decide if you can let things go or not, and then communicate them clearly and kindly.
posted by warriorqueen at 8:00 AM on December 17, 2018 [7 favorites]

Don’t dive into the deep end of the pool right away. Join a gym. Join a club. Work on yourself. Get a therapist. The kids will grow and move away, but you’ll still be here and ideally you’ll be better prepared to open up a new chapter. If something happens between here and there, great. But don’t force it. You’re not on someone else’s schedule.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 8:02 AM on December 17, 2018 [8 favorites]

Hey, anon, if you feel like dropping me a MeMail, I can talk to you about stuff that might be relevant.
posted by holborne at 8:38 AM on December 17, 2018

Maybe read Sue Johnson's LoveSense before jumping into this? It's really inspiring about the possibility of rekindling a deep lover through healthy attachment. The place you're in right now is pretty precarious and it would be a far happier path to reconnect with your partner if it were possible.
posted by namesarehard at 10:30 AM on December 17, 2018

You might be interested in this post:

The OP of that post is in a much less amicable situation than you, though.

There I posted links to a couple of articles where the parents' romantic relationship was over, but they lived together and parented their kids while seeing other people.

If you and your wife are ok with each other seeing others, lay down some ground rules, like no bringing other people home, advance notice if you'll be staying over at someone's place, etc.

In terms of finding people, whatever app you use, be it Tinder, OKC or the casual hookup subs on Reddit (e.g. r4r(your city), dirtyr4r) just be clear about what you want and your situation. Do you just want NSA sex? Do you want dates? Can you host or need them to host, can you get a hotel room, etc.
posted by foxjacket at 10:58 AM on December 17, 2018

Yes, the hosting thing can be tricky, especially with kids. Are you allowed to have partners to your house and your bed? If not, where will you go if your other partner also can't host? A hotel might be an option, but that can get expensive if it's regular.
posted by bluedaisy at 2:26 PM on December 17, 2018

Even with ground rules, you may still fall in love with someone else and leave your marriage. I recently read the book The Wild Oates Project. In this book a married, childless couple agreed to have an open marriage for a year. One of their rules were "no serious involvements" which if I'm remembering correctly translated into no more than three dates with the same person.

You might read it if you want one woman's perspective. Of look it up -- there are many articles written on the book and the fallout.

I think the whole idea of an open marriage sounds exciting and delicious (especially at my age when estrogen is surging and sex is on the brain) until you face the reality that it may cause a lot of pain, hurt, and confusion. Tread carefully and remember sex with another person will not solve any of your problems apart from lack of sex. Good luck.
posted by loveandhappiness at 2:41 PM on December 17, 2018 [1 favorite]

Do you want an open marriage/relationship, or to be roommates and co-parents with your ex?

They are two very very different things. An open marriage requires compersion and emotional processing and changing the (likely) monogamous mindset you've been steeped in for the past 30 years. Not just with your wife, but with your potential new girlfriend who is probably dating other people.

If you just want a monogamous intimate relationship with someone who isn't your wife (ie: want your partner to be monogamous to you), KNOW THAT. It may narrow your pool of potential dates to something even smaller than the local poly pool, but it can save you a lot of grief and heartache in the long run.

In your heart and in your mind, are you independent from your wife? Does she feel the same about you? Then I think it's okay to say that you cohabitate and coparent with the mother of your children, but you are not currently in a romantic relationship with her. People who get it will get it, people who don't... you're too busy to try to convince.

The two of you also need to discuss ahead of time when living apart will be on the table, and when overnight dates will be on the table, and what the consequences for breaking (childcare) agreements will be. New Relationship Energy is a monster and absolutely has the potential to interfere with kids/parenting coming first.
posted by itesser at 7:15 PM on December 17, 2018 [2 favorites]

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