Within the past few years, OR’s have come to the forefront in social media and blogs, and are depicted as growing in popularity to the point of being commonplace. However, I do not see such a phenomenon occurring within my own social circles. In spite of how popular the media claims OR’s to be, those in my circle of acquaintances have only known a very small number of people who will admit to being in open relationships. Being curious about how real people actually feel towards OR’s, I talked with many individuals to try and find their feelings about the matter. This post contains the proceeds from honest online discussions I had lately, and I post it here to incite critical thinking and personal reflection on the matter. It is my hope that my readers can think about this in greater detail, understand the causes and reasons behind it, and decide for yourself whether having an open relationship is (or has been) right for you or not, and perhaps offer some helpful advice or alternative choices.
First of all, the definition: An Open Relationship (OR) is a type of relationship in which two people are emotionally and sexually involved, over a period of time long enough to not be considered a short-term-relationship (STR), but they have a mutual agreement that monogamy is not necessary. The corollary to having an OR is that one or both partners is likely to have a similar OR with others, and that the person who agrees to be in an OR is basically agreeing to the partners “infidelity” as far as to say that it is not an infidelity.
For more information about the dynamics of Open Relationships, see this post from the Rational Male.
I have heard the following arguments FOR and AGAINST OR’s, and I may add to these lists, if new arguments appear.
The Arguments FOR OR’s
- The most obvious appeal is to have a more casual – and one imagines, a more enjoyable – sex life, and it minimizes the risk of inciting jealousy and anger in your partner(s), or deals with it upfront – or so the theory suggests.
- One popular argument FOR OR’s claims that it makes the relationship stronger. It’s as though they are intimately connected with each other, yet, they still have the freedom to sleep with anyone else. So it’s like a mutual agreement, which of course requires an exercise in trust and “good-will”.
- An OR is better (i.e. more honest, more direct, more responsible, more mature, less drama, less emotional trauma…) compared to the situation of having multiple partners, trying to hide it, and lying to them all about it.
- The classic liberal argument – that you don’t need to disrupt your enjoyment of life by utilizing your will-power to say no.
- Best of all, you can celebrate love and sex with everyone you love to sex.
The Arguments AGAINST OR’s
- Some straight talk up front, a lifestyle in which one has multiple partners – who also have multiple partners – obviously has a much greater and more immediate risk of catching and spreading sexually transmitted diseases (STD’s). I know nobody likes to hear this, but nevertheless, it would be foolish to ignore it.
- There is this unpredictable jack-in-the-box aspect of OR’s – this aspect of approaching a lifestyle of natural and spontaneous sex, which is arguably what makes it exciting and builds its appeal, but which also makes it risky and potentially treacherous. The catch is that it is difficult to predict whether jealousy will become an issue, and if it does, then how would you deal with it?
- For many, the idea of “sharing your man” or “sharing your woman” is a genuinely heartbreaking one, and is therefore unacceptable.
- Some opponents to OR’s get turned off by the “swapping-spit” aspect of the interaction. They have the concept that it is not unlike “group sex”, except that the participants aren’t doing it at the same time, in the same room. However, a small number of people said they actually get turned on by that same idea.
- The reputation aspect – it might be impressive for a guy to have OR’s (which might in some circumstances be classified as a de facto soft harem), but not especially so for females, at least, not in other guy’s opinions. It knocks down a womans’ MMV pretty severely.
Opinions of People with OR Experience
Amid all my chats and discussions with others on this subject, I only found a small number of people who had actual experience being in an OR. Among these individuals, I asked them to explain their situation, and they all had a similar story. They had a boyfriend or girlfriend that they were pretty happy with, but then something happened that caused their partner to “open up”. Those reasons included things like, (1) moving far away from each other, (2) the other person met and started dating someone else, but he/she didn’t want to end either relationship, (3) they had a long-standing habit of meeting strangers at bars and clubs, getting drunk and having One Night Stands (ONS), and they found it hard to break this habit.
On a side note, I think it’s difficult to call the third reason an open relationship, because ONS are not real relationships. It is tempting to say that people who want to call this an OR simply want to appear more respectable than someone who habitually cheats on their partner, and tries to convince their partner to accept it.
Moreover, I think I could summarize all of the above three situations like this: they didn’t want to let go of that person, but on the other hand, that person was not meeting all their needs either, so they ended up in an OR. In short, none of them were exactly happy with their situation, and neither were these individuals really into the OR aspect of their relationship, meaning, they weren’t actively looking for other people to have an OR with. Some of them said they were just pretending to agree with it, while secretly harboring a lot of resentment, which I felt was a form of self-deception. Overall, I got the impression that most of these people who have had OR’s were naive or “in love”, had poor boundaries and chose to conform to what I would describe as a victim mentality. I don’t know if that is a result of being in an OR, or if this characteristic is what got them caught up in the OR in the first place.
Opinions of People with no OR Experience, but who want to have an OR
Those few people who had never had an OR, but were interested in having an OR appeared to be rather naïve about the whole affair. Some of them said they were not sure, because they didn’t know what their friends or parents would think. Or they said they didn’t know anyone who is interested in that, or that they were not sure how it would affect their conscience. Some of them did not quite understand the topic, and strayed into fantasy. One such person said that he would also enjoy going to a nude beach or a sex party with some friends, but had no such opportunity. (Ha! I wonder why?)
People against OR’s
Most of those I talked to who were cynical about OR’s, had a negative image in their minds. They assumed that people who are interested in OR’s are people who have the following characteristics:
- They have a low impulse control
- They are physically separated for a long time
- They cannot meet all of their partner’s sexual/emotional needs
- They are unwilling to terminate the relationship, due to sexual/emotional needs.
- They cannot attract a high-quality partner who would be perceived worthy of their commitment.
- They cannot seem to live without regular socio-sexual interactions.
- They do not cherish the other person sufficiently to offer a monogamous relationship with that person.
In fact, among the individuals I interviewed who were participating in an open relationship, all of them shared at least four of the above seven traits.
What is the difference between people who can accept OR’s and those who cannot?
Judging by the opinions I’ve received, and the comments I’ve seen on social media, it appears that there are two camps of people. Some people can accept open relationships, and some cannot. I also noticed that their opinions of the matter are emotionally charged. Some people really want an OR, while others really hate it. I became curious to know what the difference is between these two crowds of folks. So the above question comes up.
Based on my discussions, I would say that those who could accept it are able to have a separate emotional experience concerning either sex or love, whereas, those who could not accept OR’s, identify and associate sex and love together. Those people who associated sex and love together, were also likely to see marriage, or at least a committed monogamous long-term-relationship (LTR), as a sacred union of these two aspects of a relationship. Those people who did not associate sex and love together, tended to have had a heartbreaking experience in life, such as coming from a broken family, or having been rejected multiple times in preference of another, and being heartbroken in the process.
Most people acknowledged that sharing the one you love with others is not the optimal relationship. It’s better to stick with your partner, and love him/her and only him/her. Yet, in the daily grind of life, we know it is possible to love someone who cannot satisfy you, and some people can fall in love with more than one person, so OR’s happen to some people.
I can also imagine that many individuals would seek OR’s as a way to obtain social legitimacy and acceptance (i.e. to avoid judgment and rejection) to their de facto lifestyle of having multiple partners. But if you are really just after sex, and the connection/thrill/ tingles/conquest etc. is the thing that you think is most important for you, then by simply stating that as a fact, and putting an OR on the table as an option, you can be little more honest and upfront with others. By doing so, you can retain a bit of respect from that person, and maybe even establish a deeper degree of understanding between you. Also, being honest about it would be a more kindhearted gesture towards those who are still hoping to find true love. Don’t break another person’s heart just for your moment of pleasure, or to satisfy your daily sexual digestive needs.
Σ Axiom 1: Honesty is the best policy.