Sex + Love

Open Relationships

Is non-monogamy right for you?

1. Don’t feel like you need to “identify,” but feel free to check out places where people do.

I’ve never identified as a “polyamorous person” or involved myself in communities based on a shared rejection of monogamy—I don’t like to assign names to anything about my love life, period—but if I had to pick a descriptor for my situation, non-monogamous probably fits best. I’m just not that into the identity-based language I’ve seen used by other non-monoggos (ooh, I’m actually kind of into this newfound term after typing it just now—it sounds like something a cute cartoon caveman would say).

This is not to disparage “polyamorous” or what have you communities—I understand that the big city where I live, and my friends in it, afford me the comfort of knowing others who just happen to also be non-monoggo (sticking with this), and that giving a name to any non-mainstream thing you do can help you find others who are into it wherever you are. Polyamory, which most often refers to having more than one long-term partner at a time, just isn’t what I do—but continued blessings to anyone who chooses that.

To say I’m in an “open relationship” also feels like a misnomer, because, although I’m talking about it publicly here in the service of this article, for the most part, my bond with Ben is really private—we’re in love, and our particular love is just for the two of us. We keep our extracurricular sex casual—it never impacts the inside jokes he and I make about our stupid-looking cat, or the way we confide in each other about the stuff we were scared of as kids, or how we always seem to want to do the same things at the same time (doing crosswords at the diner, playing Boggle, performing impromptu Roy Orbison duets—everything) without talking about it first.

In writing this, I also briefly imagined how hilariously inappropriate it would be if I called myself a SWINGER, a word that makes me feel kind of like someone’s aggressively spiritual aunt who dresses exclusively in clothing that could be characterized as “flowing,” or like the boastful, hot tub–dwelling LOVERS from Saturday Night Live who force stories of their earthy, open lovemaking onto everyone they meet. You’re just not ever gonna catch me waxing poetic in some mineral spring about the fact that I sleep around because I think I’m more spiritually—and oh-so-sensually—enlightened being than everyone else! My life is totally quotidian ’n’ normal to me, and I don’t need to make a show of this part of it or ask for permission to have it to feel valid/OK that I just adore being a total Runaround Sue. For me, it’s all very “I woke up like this (in someone else’s bed).”

There are lots of other non-monogamous permutations, from marriage-like unions among a group of people to “monogamish” situations, where a couple is mostly monogamous, but give each other a little leeway for occasional extracurricular fun, either together or separately. The internet is full of information on these and other relationship structures, which you can read up on here and here. You can listen to different perspectives on non-monogamy on this episode of This American Life; and here’s a list of stuff to keep in mind if you’re thinking about opening your relationship.

2. Set clear ground rules with your partner.

Being upfront with each other about what you can and can’t do outside of the time you spend together is hands-down the most important factor in maintaining an open relationship—like, the whole point of non-exclusive arrangements is to absolve yourselves of the deception and guilt that come with “cheating.” I think starting a relationship with the understanding that you’d like it to be non-monogamous is probably far easier than trying to open a monogamous relationship, but the template for bringing the subject up is the same either way. Saying, like, “GUESS WHAT? I want to fool around with other people!! Fun, right?” is a great way to hurt somebody’s feelings, put them on the defensive, and/or make them think that you’re not attracted to them anymore. Instead, start by telling your partner why committing (or staying committed) to each other is a priority for you—e.g., “I love being with you in all ways, so I don’t want you to think that what I’m about to tell you means I’m not into you anymore. I’m bringing this up because our relationship is important to me, and I want it to last for a long time.” Then explain how you’re feeling, why you think your connection would be strengthened by non-monogamy, and what ideas you have about how to incorporate those ideas into your romantic life together.

Some important things to not only think about, but actually discuss with your heart-person, are whether it’s OK to see other people more than once, and in what context (Can you go on dates? Are you only cool with one-time, strictly physical encounters?), whether there’s a limit to what you can do with your side-pieces (maybe kissing is totally peachy by you, but sexing other people is more of a moldy, rotten banana that you’ll break up with someone for eating?), and how cool you are with telling each other about your external entanglements.

Be respectful: Trying to force someone to relax their boundaries is just gonna end in tears. Locate a happy medium and stick to it. You love this person, so don’t do things you know will hurt them. There’s no simpler or truer aspect of romantic love than that one, for real.

Important sidenote! Non-monogamy doesn’t necessarily mean you’re having full-on SEX with strangers (or whomever else you’re seeing on the side). Even if you’re not having sex yet, you might want to kiss other people, or go on occasional dates, while still considering yourself half of a couple. This is doable, so long as you and your partner set ground rules early on. For me, non-monogamy is more about circumventing a general discomfort I have with being told not to do something—the classic reverse psychology of “I didn’t want this thing until you told me I couldn’t have it!”—than it is about getting down with some new person every night of the week.

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57 Comments

  • curltasticgurl February 24th, 2014 3:48 PM

    This is one of the best articles I’ve ever read on Rookie. I’m totally monogamous with my husband but adore reading about other people’s relationship experiences because love and sex are the two most interesting things EVER because they will never be the same for any two people/couples/whatever. I think it’s great that you’re spreading awareness of the wide spectrum of luuuurrrrve Amy Rose and wish you every happiness!

  • Eleanor February 24th, 2014 3:55 PM

    you couldn’t have said any of this better amy rose!

  • María Fernanda February 24th, 2014 3:59 PM

    Queen Amy (´∀`)♡

  • Jenny February 24th, 2014 4:05 PM

    i love this so much… i want to flyer it everywhere ♡♡♡

  • Yayo February 24th, 2014 4:08 PM

    Amy Rose you’re an absolute goddess of teenage humans.

    Can we assign someone to record your wisdom into some form of holy scripture?

  • sopademierda February 24th, 2014 4:15 PM

    this is so cute and interesting!

  • giov February 24th, 2014 4:29 PM

    I’m one of those people who find it easy to be sexually monogamous. Romantically, not so much. One of the last people i dated was in a poly relationship with someone else, which made for some very interesting (and sometimes painful) situations. I learnt a lot about relationships (not just sexual or romantic ones) through thinking about social constructs etc. Super important stuff!

  • Badlands February 24th, 2014 4:34 PM

    This is really good, LIKE REALLY GOOD. So funny yet so informative AND also so so comforting. Every article should be like this article.

  • spookycas February 24th, 2014 5:48 PM

    I don’t believe in this nonsense, sorry.

    • Amy Rose February 24th, 2014 6:26 PM

      It’s OK!

    • Abby February 24th, 2014 9:18 PM

      Even if you don’t agree with her opinions that doesn’t mean that they aren’t valid or that they are “nonsense.” Please don’t be so rude about other peoples’ decisions… I would have expected better from a Rookie reader. WHY CAN’T WE ALL JUST BE NICE???? :(

  • Mellamantu February 24th, 2014 6:19 PM

    This is the greatest! Thanks for being so sincere <3

  • Maradoll Mynx February 24th, 2014 6:21 PM

    This is awesome. I am pro-choice. So I support 100% our right to have say-so over our bodies and our sexual choices.

    I also think it’s awesome that a lot of people are actually considering the social constructs of monogamy and marriage and whether or not their rules, boundaries, limitations are going to be okay for them. Humans are individuals. We can’t and shouldn’t feel pressure to conform to archaic dictates of behavior. Simple as that.

  • SabrinaRose February 24th, 2014 6:26 PM

    amy rose, somehow you always manage to give super great life advice

    thanks for an awesome, informative article!!!

  • duffus February 24th, 2014 6:41 PM

    I wish this article had been around at the beginning of my relationship with my ex! I think he was my ‘soul mate’ or whatever but I blew it by being unfaithful and now there’s no going back.

    I think non-monogamy is a great idea for people who crap themselves when faced with the idea of forever with another person and the uncertainty of whether they want to spend their entire life with that person alone, but know that at the same time they definitely do – which doesn’t sound like it makes sense? but it does to me.

    At the moment I get the feeling that love isn’t real, or that I won’t find it again (I’m 18 fgs). Hopefully I’m wrong too and I’ll find someone else, and hopefully they’ll be accepting of the way I am, who knows. I feel so awful about betraying my ex, getting over the guilt, and him, feels impossible.

  • rhymeswithorange February 24th, 2014 7:25 PM

    This was really interesting! You are informative, insightful, and hilarious, Amy Rose.
    And now tagging along on a beach trip with you and Jenny is one of my dreams~

  • taratwinkle February 24th, 2014 7:30 PM

    This is brilliant, Amy Rose! Thank you for being so open and honest.

  • christinachristina February 24th, 2014 7:59 PM

    Dudette, thank you so much for this article. This is something I’ve been thinking about and stressing about for a while, especially today, so this is perfect. I’ve been with my boyfriend for over three years, and he’s amazing. I love him so much, he’s my best friend and my favorite person to spend time with, but things have been feeling a little boring in the makin’ out/foolin’ around department lately. That, combined with the fact that I’ve always been super flirty and there are so many cute boys with whom I want to lock lips, has really gotten me thinking about this. Basically this whole article had me thinking “YES EXACTLY I TOTALLY GET IT” but a few things have me more like “hold up, WOULD this be right for us?” Firstly, and most importantly, how would I even bring this up? Most of me thinks he would be confused/hurt/upset/etc. but what if he’s into it? And if he’s not, and I assure him it’s totally fine and let’s keep doing what we’re doing, he could STILL be hurt about the fact that I want to hook up with other people. Secondly, we live together… though if we’re not spending the night with people all of the time and certainly not bringing anyone into our home, that could work, right? And thirdly, I am wondering if I want an open relationship so I can have my cake(s) and eat them too while still having and eating my SUPREME DOUBLE CHOCOLATE WITH SPRINKLES BEST CAKE because I am bored with the sexy-time parts of my relationship? Or maybe us fooling around with others would HELP our own sexy-time parts? Any insight would help – having this space to talk is what I need!

    • christinachristina February 24th, 2014 8:03 PM

      Sorry for the length, and obviously him and I are the only ones that could answer these questions, but it’s so perfect that this was posted today, because I’ve been THINKING about it all day, though that might also have to do with the fact that this weekend was full of so many cute boys that I wanted to kiss up on, while going home to my boyfriend afterward was as wonderful as it always is. Can I really have everything while hurting no one?

  • bitnotgoodyeah February 24th, 2014 8:21 PM

    This really changed my mind about “open relationships” in a positive way

  • lep1593 February 24th, 2014 8:49 PM

    This was lovely! I’ve never been in an open relationship and the idea of being in one kind of terrifies me. But who knows! Maybe some day.

  • anaisabel13 February 24th, 2014 8:54 PM

    This is really really really really really GOOD and informative and extremely important and wow. Amy Rose you are a queen thank you so much!

    http://anexerciseofmyfaculties.blogspot.com/

  • nellie79 February 24th, 2014 9:28 PM

    Amy Rose, thanks for the insightful and informative article! You always convey your articles well, making it entertaining and relatable, while being informative and serious about the issues at hand.

    I just wanted to say that Kendrick Lamar is one of my biggest celebrity crushes as well. I love his music, but he seems like a cool person from interviews I’ve watched and is kinda cute too.

    (I’m sorry the post became unrelated to the topic of the article)

  • irismonster February 24th, 2014 9:33 PM

    I’ll admit that I’ve always been a bit judgmental about non-monoggo relationships, but this helped me understand it. I don’t know if it’s for me, but sexuality is fluid etc. etc. and who knows really. I also really like what you say about not attaching labels to your sexuality–I don’t associate with straight/lesbian/bi/ace or whatever, and I don’t really feel the need. I guess I feel like it would just be limiting my options, you know? And sometimes that itself is hard enough for people to understand.

  • ASpoonfulOfSugar February 24th, 2014 9:48 PM

    Amy Rose, you are incredibly amaze-balls!! <3 I think, knowing me, I'd probably be more satisfied in a monogamous relationship – it's just what makes me happy. But I LOVE LOVE LOVE how open and accepting Rookie is, and I'm so happy that I read this article! Definitely feel a ton more positive and educated about open relationships now :)

  • Pocket Cow February 24th, 2014 10:41 PM

    As usual with Rookie, PERFECT timing for my life! My fella of three and a bit years and I just decided to (his words) “Crack this relationship OPEN!” Because he had this one chick friend who he was kinda talking to a lot and you know how when you’re watching your BFF crush on someone hardcore and you just want it to happen for them so they can see what it’s like? Well it was pretty much that and so I was all “Dude, go forth and explore!” and we decided that we should just both be able to go forth and explore and so we are. :)

  • tuesdayfinn February 24th, 2014 10:42 PM

    i really love this/find this super helpful BUUUUT AMY ROSE, aren’t furbies banned from the white house???

  • kirsten February 24th, 2014 10:50 PM

    you did such a great job with this article–informative and also super funny. feel like i’m talking to my best friend who did nonmonogamy for a bit.

  • Roz G. February 24th, 2014 11:16 PM

    Even though I don’t particularly agree with what you wrote… good god Amy Rose you’re a writing goddess! So hilarious! I always enjoy your articles ;) keep up the good life!

  • Dominique February 24th, 2014 11:30 PM

    thank you very much for this article! I’ve never read something so clear and sincere about a topic I usually suffer a lot dealing with! :]

  • adam February 24th, 2014 11:42 PM

    Well you’re either a sexually empowered social progressive, or Robin Thicke – take your pick. Everyone should have the rights and autonomy to make their own romantic and sexual decisions, but for the love of gawd, just try not to hurt anybody. Amy Rose is a great example of how honesty shouldn’t tear things apart, it should build them up :)

  • Violet February 25th, 2014 12:01 AM

    That was wonderful, just wonderful!
    V

  • clairedh February 25th, 2014 1:22 AM

    Best article everr Amy Rose! I loved it. I want to send it to my boyfriend as an example of holy-great-amazing-hilarious-writing-I-am-so-inspired but like, major emphasis on wanting to stay monoggo with him (but actually maybe he does want to do this… We’ve never spoken about it).
    I get why people would be judgy but I didn’t even think about it reading because the writing was so personal and awesome that it was like dropping into your hilarious brain/life where that’s all G.
    Please write more! Take it sleazy, girl x

  • grrlfriend February 25th, 2014 1:50 AM

    Amy Rose, I am happy for you! Thanks for sharing with us another example of a healthy happy loving relationship. Relationships are so COOL. Intimacy is so MYSTERIOUS. Love is so GREAT.

  • shinythings February 25th, 2014 2:41 AM

    I love this article, but is there a how-to guide/advice for those of us that are a quasi-regular side of fries to someone’s happy meal of an open relationship?

    I like my friends-with-benefits-ship with an open-relationship-having person, but I want to be able to advocate for myself and my own happiness without scaring them into thinking I want to ruin their Actual Relationship with their partner somehow. What are some good ways to handle that type of communication if the need arises?

    • Berries February 25th, 2014 9:14 AM

      If you are telling your needs, you are not trying to ruin the relationship AT ALL. You are actually showing that you want things to work out fine, for yourself and the other(s)!

      I have a lot of experience with this. Mostly it’s an attention/loneliness/feeling left-out issue. Because you can feel that you are being left out, or sometimes you are literally left out (e.g. when being with a couple).

      You often hear that it is so important to communicate well, and so, the couples do. However, it can be overlooked how hard it can be to the extra party. For me, this has resulted in feeling lonely, left out, unneccesariy or actually feeling used.

      The only thing I do thus far, is being honest. But I must admit, once things went very badly because this couple kept on whispering things to eachother that I couldn’t hear, sneaking away with eachther, etc., and it was all so terrible for me. It ended up with me laying alone in bed at 5.30am because they wanted to be together (because of other circumstances), and being unable to call anyone because ”i had a 3way and it went bad and now i feel lonely” is not something that many people can understand.

      Other times, my comments were approached with much concern and hugs. Though it’s still hard for me sometimes – I just want to say ”can you please leave this lovey-dovey stuff for tomorrow?” I mean… can you do that?

  • Aoife February 25th, 2014 5:04 AM

    New life goal is definitely “academic sex hottie” status.

    Amy Rose, you are my hero <3

  • Berries February 25th, 2014 8:58 AM

    Staying monogamous has always been an issue for me in my relationships. Most people say it’s because I only had one relationship in which I was in love with the person. I think it is easier to be monagamous when I am crazy about someone, yes, but I tend to think that eventually I will have sex with other people.
    Thus far, the best option has been – stay single, and build a web of awesome friends/lovers. However, in the future I would love to have a relationship. I still don’t know what to do when I will have said relationship, though. I do know that I am loyal when it comes to my sexual relationships – most lovers (who are interested in more than a one-time thingy) I keep for months, or even years.

  • Raissomat February 25th, 2014 10:58 AM

    I find this article to be very well written and explained, but it’s a very painful topic to me.
    I love my man endlessly, and I truly believe him to be the person of my life, however I am a serial crusher, and happen to crush on random people. Mostly in positions of power (over me) in some context. It’s an imaginary thing, I barely change my behaviour towards them, BUT I KNOW! I believe it all is due to my father-complex. It hurts me since I have a hard time “forgiving ” myself, and I have always hated to keep a secret from my partner (of 6 years!), I feel like that’s the worst I can do.

  • spatergator February 25th, 2014 11:23 AM

    “[...] I also briefly imagined how hilariously inappropriate it would be if I called myself a SWINGER, a word that makes me feel kind of like someone’s aggressively spiritual aunt who dresses exclusively in clothing that could be characterized as ‘flowing,’ or like the boastful, hot tub–dwelling LOVERS from Saturday Night Live who force stories of their earthy, open lovemaking onto everyone they meet.”

    thank you for this sentence. This is the funniest string of words I have seen in so long.

    also this is a real wake up call of an article and makes me feel so much better about myself. It’s hard to explain to dudes (at least the crew I’m frequently around) the reality that I’m not ‘theirs.’ I have to constantly remind myself that I don’t owe a man anything, so as I’m not scraped raw by patriarchal self-flagellation. It’s worthless.

  • strawberryhair February 25th, 2014 12:39 PM

    This is one of my favourite articles ever on Rookie ever. You’re so cool and such a great writer, Amy Rose <3

  • whiskeytangofoxtrot February 25th, 2014 1:31 PM

    Amy Rose, your brain and heart are the best! I so dearly love and appreciate your candor.

    In tangential terms, if you want to be okay with the term “Swinger,” my favourite Swinger ever is the Dodge Dart Swinger. The first time I ever saw one of these beauties was on the highway, passing this AMAZING vintage car (the aforementioned) being driven by none-other than a Maude from “Harold and Maude” doppleganger.

  • Flossy Mae February 25th, 2014 1:59 PM

    I’m really pleased you wrote this Amy Rose! (ps I love u please marry me thanks)

    Although I don’t think the kind of non-monogamy you describe here would work for me, I also am not sure I could ever be totally faithful to one person for a long time. Maybe it’s just because I’m young and can’t imagine being tied down or married or anything, but I’m very open to the idea of some kind of open relationship. Thanks for enlightening me about it all and making me feel so much less weird for thinking it! x

  • marie-fantomette February 25th, 2014 2:14 PM

    Amy Rose! Whenever an article of yours appears here it makes my day. I am especially grateful for this one, though. Thank you for putting in that part about “I’m not as evolved as you are”. I never understood why discussions about non-monogamy (or threesomes or homosexuality or being a freelance artist or having pizza for breakfast) suddenly become discussions about what would happen if everyone did that. How does universality matter here at all? It’s really about finding the relationship model that suits you best. And no, it doesn’t always have to be about patriarchy and being shackled by social constructs and emancipation.

  • LeTeash February 25th, 2014 2:25 PM

    This is quite probably one of the most interesting, well-written articles I have had the pleasure of reading in sometime. Absolutely hit the nail on the head with the sort of expression that I dream of being able to conjure up! Thanks for shedding light on something that I’m sure many people consider, but are too afraid to pursue, but you’ve presented it beautifully…keep up the amazing penmanship, sista!

  • Bex_cygnet February 25th, 2014 6:55 PM

    Hats off for being so candid and relatable on such a personal and unfairly controversial subject Amy Rose. It says a lot about my insecurities that I felt really unsettled after reading this- and keep coming back- which I take to be a very good thing! Thanks for continually broadening my understanding of other people and myself by extension, Rookie.

  • spookypunk February 25th, 2014 9:01 PM

    This was a great piece! Lately, I’ve been considering discussing this concept with my ex boyfriends. I feel like in the past it could have saved a lot of pain and hurt feelings.

  • AnnaSuzanna February 26th, 2014 2:20 PM

    Thank you for that really well written, yet personal article!!!
    These last few days I’ve been thinking a lot about monogamy and why I always tend to cheat on other people but then…who says that strictly monogamous relationships are the model for me?

  • simmisimbaa February 28th, 2014 3:22 AM

    I feel like a relationship like this would work for me..I’m young and like to go out and every so often I like to hookup with a cute boy..and the fact that I know I like to do this scares me to making a commitment with someone (I just don’t want to be tied down) but I’m also an extremely jealous person, I don’t if I could handle knowing my bf is hooking up with other people.. But, I guess it’s a two-way street.

  • beautifullittlefool February 28th, 2014 10:41 PM

    Amy Rose, you write the most insightful articles here on Rookie. I was deeply enthralled with your ‘older men’ article and it resonated with me on a deeper level (sounds really cliched but it’s 100% true). This did not fall short either.
    Thank you, thank you, thank you!

  • prettylittleseasidegirl March 1st, 2014 1:28 PM

    wowza! thank you so much for this article, for so long I have felt like a bad person, guilt ridden for even having similar FEELINGS let alone for acting on those feelings. it’s really really great to know that there are others that have struggled with the same issues and that maybe i’m not a bad person, and that maybe i need to find ground rules that work for my relationship.

    tytytytyty<33

  • gaviaroma March 1st, 2014 7:33 PM

    this article just made me so happy i almost cried– especially this section:

    “Even though I was the one who chose to end that relationship, I was overwhelmed by despair and grief when it was over. I wondered if I would ever be able to love someone without emotionally fucking them over with my constant tail-chasing and tomcatting, and I decided the answer was no: I had tried my very hardest with someone I was prepared to spend the rest of my life with, and I had failed. Clearly I was incapable of curbing my desire to freaq a sizeable fraction of the world’s population, and that, I felt, made me worthy of contempt.

    i don’t know how to explain how amazing it is to read the perspective of someone who’s feeling the exactly the way i do, but i do know that it’s one of the best feelings in the world, and one i desperately needed this weekend. thank you, amy rose.

  • katiemylady March 21st, 2014 7:36 PM

    I’m in an open relationship right now for the first time in my life and it’s like a breath of fresh air.

  • presslyp May 18th, 2014 9:26 AM

    I’m about to go to college really far away from where my boyfriend goes to college (we’re talking 3 time zones away). I love him so so much and can’t imagine starting a new stage of my life without him, but I don’t know that I trust myself to not canoodle with other dudes when I’m so far away. An un-exclusive relationship seems like the best option to me and this article will make it a lot easier to talk to him about it!