Dating Don’ts: How To Approach An Open Relationship

Consider the open relationship. Maybe you’ve always felt constrained by a traditional relationship, and known that you could happily be with more than one person. Maybe your partner brings it up to you one night over tacos and margaritas, and you’re game. Or, maybe this is just something that you’ve wanted to try, to see if it’s something you could really succeed at. Most people go into open relationships not because they want to bone every person out there that catches their eye, but because the concept of monogamy is one that for many, feels decidedly foreign. It is kind of strange to think that we’re expected to stay with just the one person for a sustained period of time, and an open relationship can help expand boundaries. If you’re considering an open relationship, keep in mind that, if done correctly, they can be a blast. If handled poorly, like most things in life, they will blow up in your face. Here are some tips on how to navigate this new terrain.

DO: Talk early and often about what you’re about to do.

If you’re going to embark upon this journey of discovery, you have to keep in mind that it’s not a personal journey — it’s one that very much involves your partner. You’re starting an open relationship, you’re not “on a break” like Ross and Rachel. You obviously had to communicate to get to this spot, so you should definitely keep that up while you’re in the middle of it. Any relationship, be it your partner or the lady at the laundromat, requires clear and sure communication. Everything falls apart without it. When you’re testing the limits of your relationship and how you want it to look, you want to make sure that you’re still speaking about that very subject.

DO: Establish a list of no-go’s.

Please do not use your new open relationship as the chance to finally fuck all of your partner’s friends, starting with his best friend and working your way down to his favorite coworker. If that’s something that you’re interested in doing, I suggest that you guys break up, stat, and then live your life unfettered of the bonds of partnership. Before you get this thing going, think about the people you don’t want your partner sleeping with. Your sisters? Off the list. Your best friend? Definitely off the list. Keep the list small, but make it make sense for you, and don’t be huffy when your partner comes back to you with a list of people they don’t really want you sleeping with either.

DON’T: Expect to do whatever you, and only you, want.

A true open relationship is one in which things are, you know, open. You are open to do what you want with who you want, within the perimeters set by you and your partner, in addition to maintaining your relationship with that partner. That means that, based on whatever boundaries you’ve established, the rules are the same for both people. A successful open relationship is not a situation in which you get to sleep whoever you want while your partner takes a pre-selected group of women out for coffee. Nothing about that scenario is fair to you or to your partner, so remember that reciprocity is key.

DO: Set some ground rules and boundaries from the start.

It’s pretty easy for this entire arrangement to turn into a free-for-all, so avoid that as best you can by setting rules and boundaries from the start. Are you fine with your partner going on dates with other people, but not okay with them sleeping over? Great! That’s a rule. Maybe there are certain activities that you don’t want your partner participating in with other people. That’s also a rule. Maybe you want to know in advance of any dates or maybe you would rather not know any details at all. Discuss these rules early and thoroughly, and make sure that the lines of communication stay open.

DON’T: Go from being monogamous to polyamorous in one week.

The most crucial thing to understand is that this kind of stuff takes time. Remember, there’s no one else judging how fast you’re wading into the open relationship waters, so don’t feel pressured to suddenly acquire three or four side-boos over the course of one weekend. Baby-steps are crucial. Try a coffee date first, then work your way up.

DON’T: Treat it as a tiny band-aid for a gaping wound.

If your relationship is in its last breaths, and your partner proposes opening up the relationship as a means of saving what might be already dead, do not do it. It’s tempting to submit to an arrangement that feels less than ideal for you if you’re trying to hold on to a relationship that is past its expiration date, but opening up a weak relationship as a way of avoiding breaking up entirely is a recipe for disaster.

DO: Use protection.

I’m not here to tell you what to do inside your actual relationship, and I trust that you’re a responsible adult who has already discussed your own needs for protection with your main boo. If you’re opening up your relationship to other people, it’s crucial that you use protection. If you think the idea of your partner going on a date with someone else is scary, think how terrifying and horrible it will be if you somehow get an STI from this arrangement. Also, get regularly tested just to make sure things are free and clear down there.

DO: Your research.

If you’re unsure about how to approach this new world of multiple partners, read some books, talk to a therapist, listen to Dan Savage’s “Savage Love” podcast, check out some online forums, do whatever it takes to ease your mind. Two excellent book suggestions are The Ethical Slut and Opening Up: A Guide to Creating And Sustaining Open Relationships.

DON’T: Ignore your jealousies.

Jealousy is natural, and it might not go away, but prepare yourself for that inevitability. It’s going to feel weird at first, when you’re home on a Friday night because your partner is on a date with someone else, so work on ways of coping with that jealousy, and understanding how much of it is normal and how much of it is problematic.

DO: Enjoy yourself and don’t ignore your feelings.

Hey — if it’s fun, and it’s working, great! If it’s more trouble than it’s worth, if it’s making you feel stress-y or weird or unable to sleep at night, then talk to your partner. Making your relationship closed after a few months of being open isn’t the end of the world. Be aware of your feelings, and don’t feel like you have to stay in this thing as it stands. Life is just a series of minuscule, relatively unimportant choices. You chose to be in an open relationship, so you can choose to end it. Easy as pie. When it stops being fun, reconsider. It’s not for everyone, but who knows? It may just be for you.