Seven Realities Guys Should Know Before They Open Up Their Relationship

(NOTE: Based on time elapsed since the posting of this entry, the BS-o-meter calculates this is 10.854% likely to be something that Ferrett now regrets.)

Reality #1: Someone’s Gonna Be Swimming In Offers, But It’s Most Likely Not You.
A lot of guys have this logic:
“This girl’s hitting on me, and I can’t take advantage of that because of my girlfriend.
“Man, I’m missing out on all the sex!
“Therefore, if I open up my relationship, I’ll have all the sex!”
But these guys are forgetting two things:
* Many women engage in this behavior called “flirting,” wherein they enjoy exchanging compliments but don’t necessarily want to have sex with you. (In some cases, they may feel safe flirting with you simply because they know you’re not going to respond.) Too many guys run loose and go, “YEAH! WE CAN HAZ TEH SEX NOW, PEGGY!” and get an answer of, “…um, I actually didn’t want sex, David.”
* In almost any set of people, the woman’s going to get more offers to have sex than the man will.
So these dudes open up their relationship, expecting to be drowned in sex, and then are astonished when they’re left dry on a beach and their girlfriend is out swimming in seas of strange dick.
I’m not saying you won’t get offers – but unless you have a guaranteed party on the hook (and we’ll get to that), you’ll most likely have fewer offers than your girlfriend.
It may be enough to keep you happy. Just don’t expect that opening up this relationship is only going to benefit you.
Reality #2: Hostage Situations Usually Don’t End Well For The Hostage-Taker.
A lot of “opened relationships” look like this:
“There’s Margaret. I want to fuck Margaret. If you don’t let me fuck Margaret, I’m breaking up with you. So can I fuck Margaret?”
That’s not polyamory. That’s fucking someone else at the gunpoint of a shattered relationship.
Which is not to say that you should only try to open up your relationship if your partner has no objections – most partners have some fears, and negotiating through these fears is part of the process. And in the good relationships there’s compromise, and concern, and love.
Or you just drop the hammer and fuck away.
But what often happens in these hostage situations is that, as noted, the girl gets more offers. And in dating other dudes, she discovers that hey, other men are nicer than you.
Weeks later, the balance of power is reversed, and she’s dating three boyfriends and spending all her time out and coming home looking gloriously blissful and the chastened boyfriend says, “Hey, sweetie? Maybe we should slow down on this dating thing…”
Guess how well a girlfriend who’s been roped into this life against her will reacts to that kind of offer?
Be kind in ushering your girlfriend into open relationships. You may need that kindness later.
Reality #3: Rules Are Like Training Wheels. If You Don’t Take ‘Em Off Eventually…
What a lot of couples do is surround Their Precious Love with a lot of rules to guarantee their primacy – “Okay, you don’t sleep over at their house, and you don’t ever go out in public, and I have to be the last person you speak to at night…”
Those are often good ways to start. But your goal should be to get rid of them as soon as possible.
For one thing, newbie couples are prone to thinking that “setting rules” is the same as “setting expectations.” But they’re not. You can set a rule that says, “You can’t see a movie with them together, movies are for us,” and suddenly New Partner takes them to a sports game and you feel jealous. They didn’t break any rules, but the underlying expectation was “Don’t do anything with them I’d want to go to.”
Second, as noted in the example above, the goal of a lot of starter rules is actually secretly to hamper your partner’s ability to have a good time. The goal is to purposely sabotage their dates in some subtle way in order to guarantee loyalty to the “core” relationship – which, in turn, leaves a lot of rule-bound couples going, “Why does no one want to date us?” BECAUSE YOU’VE MADE IT SO IT SUCKS FOR THEM TO DATE YOU. You might as well be monogamous, because nobody fucking wants to chop their way through your sex bureaucracy.
Third, rules are often things that “secondaries” – a term I hate – can’t negotiate. You two are the ruler, they’re the subject. And again, going back to the “You get what you give” aspect of this, that lack of negotiation often leads to overthrowing the dictator, where the person your partner is dating doesn’t give a shit about your happiness because you’ve made it clear you don’t give a shit about theirs. Undermining and overthrows result.
And lastly, everybody fucking hates rules. Rules are something someone else made you do. You may need a few rules in your relationships – “No unsafe sex without prior negotiation with me” is a solid one – but your goal would be to transition into more flexible expectations.
Take me, for example. It takes me at least six months of talking to someone before I can have sex with them, and I have to run those people by my girlfriend and wife for a sanity-check. But that’s not a rule per se, because I agree it’s a good idea. I tend to fall into bed with people too soon, am prone to flare-hot-and-burn-badly relationships, and the six months has become part of my expectation in a relationship.
Nobody’s making me take this time – I’ve come to agree that it’s something that makes my life better. It looks a lot like a rule from the outside, but realistically it’s an expectation on everyone’s end.
Rules are like training wheels. Usually, you want to think about taking them off after awhile.
Reality #4: The One-Penis Policy Is Generally A Sexist Piece of Shit.
I’ve written a rant on the OPP before, but the traditional dude thing of “You can date women but not men” is, in my experience, often the sign of dysfunction.
It winds up being a dysfunction when the guy is threatened by other dicks, and so mandates the woman can’t date people who threaten him. Which is a problem for two reasons:
1) He generally likes the idea of the two-girl threesome, so this is often a selfish way of saying, “Sweetie, your goal in this relationship is to turn me on, not to satisfy yourself. You can have all the sex you want as long as I can masturbate to it, and maybe weasel my way in.”
2) It’s a covertly sexist way of saying, “Women aren’t a threat to my relationship, because two women dating isn’t a real relationship.” Cue intense panic when it turns out his girlfriend is dating a girl and gets attached to her.
I’m not saying the OPP is invariably a piece of shit. I have friends who are homoflexible, and are only legit attracted to this one guy. But that’s the woman’s choice, not covertly made because it’s easier than arguing with the guy that he has no right to be threatened.
There are lots of comments from women who started in an OPP and eventually walked away because, when you stripped the fittings away, it turned out the dude was only comfortable if everything in this relationship was designed to service his needs.
Don’t be that dude.
Reality #5: NRE Will Make Everyone Stupid.
NRE stands for “New Relationship Energy,” and it’s the swoony-happy-they’re-perfect feeling you get when you find someone new.
It also has a habit of destroying relationships.
The reason NRE is so destructive is because in a monogamous relationship, you’re used to giving yourself over to your partner 100%. If you wanna spend all your time texting them and getting the new sex and showing them your favorite movies, well, nobody else is suffering!
In polyamorous relationships, that’s called “neglect.” And if it goes on too long, it damages the core relationship.
And it’s a tough skill to learn. It’s hard, when you’re smooching on a couch in the hottest makeout session in your life, and remembering to keep track of time because you promised you’d be home by 8:00 to make dinner.
But it’s something you gotta learn to do. You made promises? Keep ’em. And if you wanna renegotiate those promises? Great!
But breaking your promises without warning because you’re Having A Good Time and Don’t Wanna Leave It means that you tend to leave relationships behind. Especially when your partner’s sitting at home at an empty table, hungry and angry, calling your phone while you refuse to answer.
NRE is not dangerous in and of itself. NRE is dangerous when you’re so wrapped up in fuzzylove that you can’t be bothered to remember what you said you’d do yesterday.
Learn to pull your head out of those clouds and fulfill your promises. You’ll all be stronger for it.
(And yes, that applies to your girlfriend, too. Everyone gets the NRE bug once in a while.)
Reality #6: Polyamory Sometimes Involves Discomfort.
It is not always easy for me to be home alone, watching reruns, when my wife is out on a date. It’s uncomfortable, and I get a little jealous, and there’s that itch to call up and call it off.
But I don’t.
Because sometimes, polyamory involves being uncomfortable and letting it happen.
Don’t be a doormat, of course. But too many relationships involve people freaking out because they can only handle poly when it’s working for *their* benefit – and the minute they feel sad or insecure or lonely because their partner’s getting the good side of poly, they implode.
Good polyamory is about being fair. And the fairness is that at some point, they were sitting at home alone worried about you, and being generous enough to repay that nervousness with reward.
Reality #7: Not All Relationships Can Survive Being Opened.
Even if you follow all of the guidelines I’ve set above, some people just aren’t meant to be together. A lot of relationships go poly because fuck, they’re falling apart as it is, why not try something new?
Which makes polyamory often like Kitchen Nightmares – people point to Gordon Ramsay being able to rescue only 15% of the restaurants he rehabilitates, but people forget that you don’t call in Gordon Ramsay when your restaurant business is running well.
Opening up any relationship, even a steady one, is a risk. You date other people, find other ways of connecting emotionally, and the result may be they discover more fulfilling methods for them. Or you do for you. Or you find out that only one of you is comfortable in this open relationship.
Or – and this is also a very real possibility – you incorporate these other lessons you’ve learned in your other relationships to make your “core” relationship infinitely stronger.
Which is really what opening up your relationship should become – a way of making you both satisfied. It’s all a complex balance – because yeah, rules are helpful but you don’t want to be bound by rules, generosity is helpful but you don’t want to give everything you need away to be a “good” partner, and jealousy is not a crime but you don’t want to run a relationship based on preventing all jealousy.
It’s a tough set of things to manage. Good luck.
Because I gotta tell you – if you can pull it off, you’ll experience some forms of love that you just can’t get anywhere else, and it is beautiful.


  1. Keith
    Feb 10, 2016

    I can completely understand this article. I haven’t experienced all of it, because I haven’t been in an open relationship before, but I’ve done plenty of this…(well, when my ex started dating girls, I went through the WHOLE section fo those…) amazing article and something to think about, for sure

  2. Teri
    Feb 12, 2016

    Thank you for writing this article.. I have been ethically non monogamous for most of my adult life and actively polyamorous since 1999 when I learned a word that better describes my relational orientation. I found there to ba lot of really useful insights and information .

  3. Riley37
    Feb 12, 2016

    Everything you’ve written matches my observations, for what that’s worth; you have some great articulations.
    #4 is a more of a moral statement, and it’s an important one. When men notice sexism, and point it out to other men, and say “hey, we can be better than this” – that’s a good thing.

  4. anonymous
    Feb 13, 2016

    pretty much agree with all of it – the NRE section is oh-so-wise but the One – Dick section I think is extremely one-sided and discounts legitimate boundary setting by two mindful people.
    not all one-dick policies are sexist and selfish. though, the ones described above are. there are numerous ways to skin a cat and that’s what polyamory is all about.
    I’m a bi male – i have a girlfriend who i am totally comfortable having male and female lovers.
    i have a newer relationship with another bi male and we have decided to be exclusive with men but open to other women. why? because we both acknowledge that we have sufficient fears to warrant such a policy. we know if we open it up we’re gonna implode. we agree that it’s possible down the road we may open it up to other men, but for now we both need the security of exclusivity.
    in other words we are consciously creating boundaries that support the health of the relationship.

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