5. Be fair to the people you’re seeing outside the relationship.
I feel like all the best romantic wisdom comes from down-home country and blues singers, so here is a mournful old-timey ballad that I just wrote about telling a potential hookup that you’re seriously involved with someone else (imagine that I am casually holding a banjo but not really knowing what to do with it and also I tried to put spurs on my Keds):
Tell them as soon as you can without presuming
That something’s gonna happen with your mouths or other parts
But definitely before getting physical or going on like 12 dates
And breaking their doggone heartsssssss
Wow. That definitely sounded like the kind of time-tested profundity that can only come from living off the land and your own salty tears and probably there’s a pickup truck involved. I reckon (OK I promise this stops here) that you should do what my awesome song tells you, partner (sorry this really is the last time for real) (more like sexual partner!!!!!!!! hahah) (please don’t go).
Obviously, this doesn’t matter as much for one-time flings. If you play tonsil hockey with a girl you meet on vacation or at a party out of town, you don’t need to recite your autobiography before getting down to biz. But if you’re more socially connected to a person, or intend to see them more than once, the time to let them know is as soon as possible. Some people you might want to mess around with are not going to be receptive to the idea that they’re one of the many ships in your various ports, especially when one of those is a yacht ( I’m talking about your main squeeze, not the old Amy Rows, here). Don’t try to wheedle anybody into changing their mind. Not everyone is going to have the same attitude toward casual hookups as you do, and that’s their prerogative.
Some people might think you’re lying about being non-monogamous just to try to get them to help you cheat. (The unfortunate reason for this is that there are horrible deceitful dicks in this world who do exactly that.) It helps to disclose the realities of your relationship clearly as soon as it feels like something’s gonna happen between you. The longer you keep it a secret, the more it’ll seem like you’re being deceptive, because why would you not mention it if you’re not doing anything wrong? You don’t have to give them the WHOLE ENTIRE HISTORY of your relationship and the philosophical reasoning behind your non-monogamy, as I have here! Just say that you’re in an open relationship—even if you don’t like the term, this is the easiest and most direct way to get your point across. Then, if you want, answer any questions they may have about it—although some people are just gonna be like, “GREAT, crystal clear on this one, let’s make it happen,” in my experience, they are in the minority.
6. Be prepared to be criticized.
Can I be honest with you for a moment? (Because everything I wrote before this sentence was a series of CRAFTY LIES, PRANKED YA, LIKING SEX IS ACTUALLY BAD!) Even though I’m comfortable with the way I choose to live my life, this is probably the most nervous I’ve ever been about writing something for Rookie, because there is still a giant stigma attached to being a youngish female person who is not willing to conceal the fact that she likes sex and all its related behavioral trappings.
The criticism often comes in the form of slut-shaming, which sounds like “How could you do that to him/her?” or “If you really loved each other, you’d be faithful,” or the more concise “Don’t you feel like a slut?” which I almost admire for its frankness, except I really don’t at all. The implication behind all these comments is common among friends of the patriarchy: It’s “natural” if men want to sleep around, but when (young) women do, it’s seen as self-serving and immoral. And you know what? I would like to politely invite such naysayers to go suck an egg, as long as we’re in the business of telling people what they can and can’t put their mouths on. Even if you find the idea of opening your own relationship abhorrent, it’s shitty manners to treat those who choose non-monogamy for themselves like they’re BAD or WRONG—both of which I can totally be at times, but never for this reason.
A less damning, but still undermining, backhanded compliment that people sometimes give me is “Wow, I guess you’re really just more evolved than I am—I could never do that.” It’s one thing to ask questions or be curious about non-monogamy, but entirely another to make a judgy comparison between two completely unrelated personal preferences about love. It makes me a little bit sad when people treat the private decisions that I’ve made with Ben like a critique of their own lives and relationships. My response is usually to say, “Nah, different people are just comfortable with different things.” People are not Pokémon—non-monoggo-hood isn’t something you “level up” to when you free yourself from society’s shackles, man. It’s a personal choice about what makes you happy, and it’s not for everyone!
The key to maintaining a healthy outlook about non-monogamy is not letting other people’s dumb attitudes about it impact your mindset, so I mostly deal with the aforementioned situations by not worrying about them too much. They’re so far from the reality of my life that I don’t feel the need to explain myself—why bother clearing my name of some made-up wrongdoing I don’t even believe in? It’s the same as if someone came up to me and said, “How dare you steal the president’s most beloved gold-plated Furby doll from the White House!” It’s like, (a) that’s not a real thing, and (b) even if it were, I didn’t. Whoa, I just realized that that nonsense-scenario is actually a totally solid analogy for this whole conceit: The president is a primary partner, the golden Furby is my vag, and the White House is the patriarchy’s insistence that I live chastely instead of expressing my desires in a way that makes me happy. Excuse me while I go write 12 scholarly feminist texts based on this premise. Maybe I am an academic sex hottie after all?
All told, the only advice you absolutely need to follow when you’re figuring out your own relationship configuration is to always be aware and considerate of your own and your partner’s feelings. Keep talking! Do a little state-of-the union every so often to make sure you’re both still feeling happy and loved, and if one of you isn’t for whatever reason, make some adjustments and see if things improve. All relationships require communication and a genuine desire to be sweet and kind to the person you’re dating. Hold these things at the forefront of your mind when you’re deciding if you want to open your relationship. If you both decide you do, go get it, and above all, have fun and be respectful of the people you care about. If I know anything about you guys, that part’ll come real easy. ♦