The Non-Monogamous Couple Returns
1. So my husband and I have been together for more than a decade and have a kid. We’ve talked about opening the relationship and we’re both somewhat interested, since we’re comfortable enough with each other to really trust each other. But how on earth do you meet people who will be into this? You all sound young — everyone I know is married! And if they’re non-mog/poly, I don’t know about it! (I know a lot of hot married dudes I’d happily enjoy a casual relationship with, though.) I feel like the answer to this is: wherever single people meet each other. But I’m in a stage where no one seems to be single. I know there are swinger parties, but that seems like such a crapshoot. What’s a flirty Mrs. to do?
A Non-Monogamous Lady: First of all, congratulations on what sounds like a really happy, healthy marriage!
A Non-Monogamous Dude: Yes! Congrats and hooray!
ANML: Your kid is lucky to have such relaxed, communicative parents.
ANMD: Totally. But the presence of a child also raises the stakes here.
ANML: Yes. The stakes are higher anyway for married people, but you definitely want to make sure your household remains a stable environment for your kid. The first thing you should do is visit the Kink-Aware Professionals List and find a sex-positive marriage counselor.
ANMD: Not because there’s anything pathological here! Opening a long-closed marriage with a child is a complicated scenario, and you’ll be happy to have an impartial, open-minded third party who can serve as a mediator and sounding board for any feelings that arise, be they positive or negative.
ANML: So that’s the first order of business — look for a good marriage counselor to hold your hands and guide you through this scary, messy, exciting new adventure.
ANMD: Second order of business: how do you find people? It’s as true in real life as it is in song: the internet is really, really great.
ANML: When we first read this question, we thought, “Why haven’t they tried internet dating?” But then we realized, you’ve been married for 10 years! You might not realize that internet dating is totally normal now!
ANMD: Yes! There are lots of dating websites, catering to different romantic needs, from finding a soulmate who will love you forever to cheating on your spouse. (Which I do not condone. You know who you are, Website-I-Will-Not-Name. Shame on you.)
ANML: Personally, we like to use OkCupid. I don’t know how old you are, but OkCupid is free and popular with people of all ages. I know a woman in her late fifties who uses the site with great success.
ANMD: Of course, it is far from a bed of roses. I’m sure some of the Commentariat will rail about how much they hate OKCupid and what a terrible time they’ve had on it. We empathize.We’ve both been on shitty dates too, and each of us has taken long hiatuses because we couldn’t stand the site anymore.
ANML: But OkCupid has several advantages. For one, everyone is on it. It’s like the Facebook of dating sites.
ANMD: I believe that is one of the epithets they lay claim to.
ANML: Note: I am not being paid to endorse OkCupid.
ANMD: You might even find some of your hot married dudes there! For someone in your position, the ability to search for other people in open relationships (“Status: Not Single”) is invaluable. Which isn’t to say that you should limit yourselves to them, but I’ve found that it makes things easier. You’re more likely to want similar things out of a date.
AMNL: We should mention at this point, since you’re new to it, that there are some basic precautions to take whenever you meet someone off the Internet. Meet in public, make sure you have friends who know where you are and who you’re with, that sort of thing.
ANML: Moving on to our last bit of advice. As it was pointed out in the comments for our last column, most major cities have a non-monogamous scene, just as they have a gay scene, a BDSM scene, a roller derby scene, etc. As you meet people on the internet, I encourage you to consider making platonic friends, too! It will help you so much to have a circle of friends who know exactly what you’re going through, who can sympathize with your difficulties, who can laugh with you and not judge you.
ANMD: Yes, this is key. For example, ANML started talking to a guy on OkCupid who turned out to be very experienced in open and poly relationships. And neither of us have done anything … romantic … with him or his girlfriend, but just talking to them and hanging out with them has been a great way to process a lot of the issues that we face as a couple.
ANML: Best of all, they might introduce you to their hot friends!
ANMD: We can but hope.
ANML: Maybe your kids can have playdates!
ANMD: Maybe you can have playdates! At a different time!
ANML: Good luck!
ANMD: Yes! All the best in the next of your many adventures.
2. Hi there! My boyfriend and I have been dating about eight months, exclusive for two of those months. From the very beginning, we discussed non-monogamy as an option, for much the same reasons you cited, so I assigned him some reading material (my annotated copy of ‘Sex at Dawn,’ to be followed by Tristan Taormino’s ‘Opening Up’) and said we’d talk about it after, because I wanted him to know where I was coming from. Over those exclusive months (he is bright but kind of a slow reader) he’s basically let the topic drop, and all kinds of sweet, proprietary “mine” statements have started coming out of his mouth. They’ve come out of mine too, but I’m still interested in exploring this as an option, while I’m thinking he might have changed his mind.
How do I broach the topic again without sounding like I’m unhappy? I’m not, and we do talk very openly normally, but I don’t want to hurt him. Or should I just wait for him to finish the damn books and assume that non-monogamy is an interesting enough topic that he won’t forget about it?
ANMD: First off, ANML, I have to say that if you “assigned [me] some reading material” on any subject, I would drag my feet about reading it purely out of protest.
ANML: Wouldn’t life be great, though, if people communicated entirely through books? Instead of having to break up with someone, you could just hand her a copy of He’s Just Not That Into You, and bolt.
ANMD: With that in mind, ANML, I want to pass along to you my annotated copy of the Kama Sutra. Because I want you to know exactly where I’m coming from.
ANML: I see what you did there.
ANMD: I hate myself for it. Anyway, it comes down to this: you aren’t actually communicating. Your books are an attempt to avoid direct communication, and it’s not very effective.
ANML: Even if he did read Sex at Dawn and Opening Up for you, he wouldn’t necessarily interpret them the same way you did. This is why we have English departments.
ANMD: There are many reasons that he might not have read the books. He might resent being given a reading assignment, and the condescension that implies. He might not be interested in an open relationship, and not reading means that he gets to defer the issue. He might just legitimately not be much of a reader. But you won’t know until you ask.
ANML: Allow us to point out, gently, that you don’t seem to be Opening Up much yourself in this situation. It sounds like you truncated the conversation by throwing books at him. Yousay that “he’s basically let the topic drop,” but he was enabled by your stalling mechanism.
ANMD: So, to the question, which is “How do I broach the topic again without sounding like I’m unhappy?”
ANML: We got a lot of questions like this. I wish we had an easy magic word of an answer.
ANMD: We should throw in a disclaimer here: as we’ve said before, we have always been non-monogamous, and so we haven’t had the actual discussion in question. But we have had a lot of conversations about our relationship that fall along similar lines.
ANML: And, like you, we have found it frustratingly difficult to make each other read our minds. Or books, for that matter.
ANMD: First off, decide why you want an open relationship, and what type of openness you envision. Then find a quiet, un-rushed time alone with your SO, and ask him if he’s given any more thought to that conversation two months ago. Listen to what he has to say.
ANML: Oh right, listening! Listening is the magic word.
ANMD: And it’s possible that he’ll get hurt, or take things the wrong way. But there’s only so much you can do to prevent that.
ANML: Believe me, I understand that you don’t want to hurt him. It pains me to think of ANMD’s feelings being hurt. It’s the worst. And it’s good to be sensitive to your partner’s feelings, but don’t be crippled by the fear of doing so. He’s not a delicate hothouse orchid. He’s a big boy, and if you tell him something he doesn’t want to hear, you know what? He will live. And so will you!
ANMD: Also, if he senses that you’re preoccupied by something, he might actually be relieved and happy when you broach the issue. When ANML and I have heart-to-hearts like this, it’s often such a relief to just get issues out in the open that we feel better after, even if we don’t get exactly what we want.
ANML: Best case scenario: you do get exactly what you want, and your relationship will be awesome!
ANMD: Even if you end up staying monogamous, the discussion itself will hopefully encourage you to be more forthright with one another, and the relationship will be healthier for it. So, win-win!
ANML: And please: no more communicating through reading assignments.
Is it possible that non-monogamy can help me tame my jealousy? I have cheated on every partner I’ve ever had, and I’ve also struggled with jealousy in every relationship I’ve ever had. I’m sure part of it is that I don’t trust myself, so how can I trust anyone else?
I’m in a happy relationship right now, and we are more open about our histories and desires than I’ve ever been with someone. He’s about to be on the road for six months for work. We’ve both cheated on more than one partner in the past, and I think we’re kidding ourselves if we think one or both of us isn’t going to cheat sometime in the next half year. I’m wondering if having an open relationship while he’s gone would actually help me deal with my jealousy. I wouldn’t have to worry that he’s hiding something, and I wouldn’t have to resent him if I tried really hard not to cheat and he beat me to it.
I’ve always been under the impression that the only people who can possible navigate an open relationship are the most secure people in the world, who aren’t prone to jealousy. But could it possibly help me? By the way, yes I am in therapy and trying to deal with my issues on my own.
ANML: Letter Writer, I wish I could talk to you in person. Your dilemma raises so many deep questions about the nature of love and trust and self — I would love to go out for drinks with you so we could parse the shit out of it together.
ANMD: Wow, you came out swinging.
ANML: Can a cheater stop cheating? Is love enough to change a person’s fundamental nature? How do you learn to trust?
ANMD: In your case, how do you learn to trust quickly, before your partner leaves for six months and you both instantly hop into foreign beds? Before you consider whether having an open relationship will allay your cheating (and yes, you can still absolutely cheat and be cheated on in an open relationship), you need to figure out why you cheat.
ANML: Yes. It sounds like perhaps you cheat because you feel anxious and powerless in your relationships, and cheating is a way for you to gain the upper hand.
ANMD: And being in an open relationship won’t necessarily help that — you’ll just find a new way to cause the same issue. Look at your language! You don’t want to resist cheating and find out that your partner “beat you to it.” Like it’s a race to cheat. Because that person wins … something?
ANML: Well observed. And as for your assumption that you “wouldn’t have to worry that he’s hiding something” — let me assure you that you can most definitely find ways to worry. Even if he’s the most forthright gentleman in the world.
ANMD: Absolutely. Because, as you’re aware, your jealousy has nothing to do with him, and everything to do with you.
ANML: However — with all this said — here’s what I see: you two are happy with each other, and you’re open and honest with each other. You’ve both made mistakes in the past, but you sincerely want to change. And you’re working on it. You’re in therapy (high five!). As far as I can tell, your interest in non-monogamy is in good faith. And ultimately, when it comes to non-monogamy, good faith is all you’ve got. In fact, when it comes to love in general, good faith is all anyone’s got.
ANMD: You should talk, frequently and openly, starting now, about what form you want your non-monogamy to take. Do you want to officially break up and see where things stand when he returns in six months? Do you want to continue the relationship emotionally but be free to have sex with other people? How much do you want to be informed about your partner’s extra-relationship sex life? These are questions you have to answer for yourselves. And then, when he’s away, you should do your very best to stick to the rules you’ve established. And if you find yourself struggling to do so, think about why you’re struggling, and talk with him about it too!
ANML: And your shrink! Talk to your shrink about it!
ANMD: Nothing is set in stone, nothing is proscribed. There are no rules in a relationship except for those that you and your partner create through open and honest discussion. So make rules that you’re comfortable with, ones that you can keep. And as you learn more about yourselves and each other, revisit those rules.
ANML: In fact, if rules make you anxious — I get the sense that you, like me, instinctively chafe against rules — then don’t think of them as rules. Think of them as agreements. That’s what a relationship is: an agreement between two people.
ANMD: Or however many people you want (hi polys!).
ANML: Yeah … polyamory probably isn’t for you right now. But some other form of non-monogamy might be! I think it’s worth a shot.
ANMD: Keep your good faith, and blaze a new, more honest path for you and your partner. You may be surprised by how much better you feel about it.
ANML: I think you’re on that path already. Happy trails!
A Non-Monogamous Couple lives in New York City. If you have a question for them, send it here. (300 word max, please.)