How to Date Someone Who's in an Open Relationship
There are many ways to date and many ways to love. Traditional monogamy might be one, but it’s not the only one. Many people have questions about how to open up their own relationships with a primary partner; but...
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There are many ways to date and many ways to love. Traditional monogamy might be one, but it’s not the only one. Many people have questions about how to open up their own relationships with a primary partner; but the third party involved—a person on the outside of the existing relationship—can have just as many questions about what to do and expect when dating someone who is in an open relationship.
Let’s say you swipe right on someone who has “ethically non-monogamous” in their Tinder bio and you go on a date, only to discover you really like the person and want to go on more dates. Before you do that, you need to assess how you feel about the situation. Have an open conversation with the person you’re dating to find out what rules exist in their open relationship and how they prefer to navigate them. For instance, they might have a rule against sleeping over at someone else’s place. Ask yourself if you’re OK with them leaving every time you hook up, or whether that overnight cuddle is something really important to you.
“First things first: Are you comfortable not being the primary partner for this person? If not, look to end the relationship and continue along finding someone who shares similar monogamous values. If you are comfortable, then communication is key,” said Matt Lachman, a certified sex therapist and casual non-monogamy specialist. “Make sure that you and the person who identifies as ‘open’ are talking about what exactly that means to them. Are they seeing more than just you and their primary partner? What are the rules and guidelines that individual has set in their primary relationship? You want to discover what is on- and off-limits so you can monitor expectations.”
Keep in mind that your expectations may change over time, too. You might be comfortable with certain elements of the relationship for a while only to find your interests or feelings change over time. If you really start to like the person, imagine how you’ll feel if, say, they have a big work event coming up—but they take their other partner as their date. Be open to having changing feelings and addressing those head-on.
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Even if the person you’re dating has a don’t-ask-don’t-tell policy with their partner, you’re still there. You’re still a factor. All three of you—and anyone else you’re dating or being intimate with—are factors. Be direct and have honest conversations about where and how you fit into this.
Liz, who has been dating a man in an open marriage for six years, explained that she met his wife “early on” in their relationship and considers her a good friend. The man spends Sunday through Wednesday with his wife in their home, then spends Thursday and Saturday with Liz, switching off every other Friday. They even do holidays together. That works for them, but they had to build that three-way understanding. If things get serious between you and the open person, you might have to do something similar and shying away from doing so will not help anybody.
“We all used to get jealous, but once you realize jealousy is just sexy anxiety, it’s easier to deal with,” Liz said. “You do, unfortunately, have to talk a whole lot in the beginning.
“Make sure you also communicate your needs and wants, as well,” Lachman said. “If you want the relationship to just be physical, then say so. If you are looking for casual dating, make sure that you check in with how you are feeling throughout the relationship.”
If you go into this knowing your feelings and expectations could change—and you are accepting of not only that, but the fact that you may have to end the relationship if you become uncomfortable—you have a real opportunity to learn about yourself.
“There are times when I wish we had a more ‘traditional’ relationship, but honestly I do not, under any circumstances, want him to leave his wife. One of the benefits to being the non-wife partner is that I don’t have to deal with any of the combined income/co-habitating shit. Like he’ll mow my lawn and stuff but my house is my house, I own it, and I can do exactly what I want with it,” said Liz, who added that she really values her own “alone time.” Essentially, she gets the best of both worlds by having a great partner when she wants and needs one, but her own independence when she wants and needs that.
She also pointed out she has the ability to see other people without that being considered cheating or something potentially threatening to the relationship she values. That might seem untraditional, but sometimes, unconventional approaches work, so don’t be afraid to explore whether a setup like this could be beneficial for you.
To figure it all out, though, you’ll need to educate yourself and go with the flow. Liz pointed to a “learning curve” she, her partner, and his wife had to navigate. There will be things you have to navigate, too, on your own. Lachman suggested researching, listening to podcasts, and even “finding a sex positive therapist who understands the CNM community is huge,” as your friends and family may not quite understand your choices, and you will need support.