Here's the Thing: Dating People in Open Relationships
A CUTIE PIE:
I think I've either stumbled across a busy millennials' dream situation...or gotten myself into some potentially complicated shit. That is, I just started seeing this guy who has an open marriage...and I can't decide if I love it or hate it.
We met on a dating app; his profile said he was in an open relationship, but when I rolled up to our first date at a bar a few days later, I was taken aback when he clarified that he's actually been married for a few years (and is definitely, deeply in love with his wife, who honestly....sounds like a cool ass chick).
I proceeded to interrogate him for an hour about the whole situation, preparing to jump ship the moment it felt skeezy, but he seemed very thoughtful, honest, and responsible as he explained everything to me (including their "rules"!). After a few hours (and, okay, a few drinks), I was like all right fine, if this is just a one-ntime sex thing, I could 1000% roll with it, especially since this is the closest semblance to a date I've been on for at least six months.
And the crazy thing is? It's only been a few weeks, but we have had so much fun. We've hung out a handful of times, either for drinks + sex, or smoking weed in a park + sex, or to cook dinner (....+ sex). We always go to my place (one of the "rules") and he almost always sleeps over. He'll send me texts throughout the day, just asking questions about my life or whatever, and when we're hanging out, we'll talk about regular stuff, including his life with his wife, etc. I even ask him questions about what it's like to be married, and he'll just tell me about it like it's no big deal. The sex is good, but the little pieces of intimacy otherwise — cuddling in the morning, sending good morning text messages — makes me hesitate, because holy shit am I going to FALL for this?
In a perfect world, I would recognize this situation for what I think it is: an opportunity to get to know a guy who ostensibly has his shit together and is basically a model for showing up and stating what you can and can't give as a partner, and to have some fun?? (God it's been so long). But I'm also deeply worried that, as someone who's historically recalibrated her entire life for Whatever Guy Is In My Life Right Now, that being a Chill Chick Who Rolls With Things is not my forte. The one time I was in a situation remotely close to this was with a guy who was cheating on his long-term gf with me — but that was entirely different, i.e., full of secrets and lies and NO BUENO things. I remember it all drove me absolutely crazy to feel like "the other person," even when he ended up leaving the gf to be with me.
Now, I'll somehow get confused and mistake all the fun — the intimacy, etc. — with this guy for something more, secretly try to "win" him over as well (which I already know is FOOLISH and not even desirable? He's cute but I couldn't picture myself with him with him....yet) and end up getting hurt over expectations that I should have never had. Am I approaching dangerous territory, or could this actually be....good for me?
This one is for Quentin Tarantino.
Well, well, well, if we don’t have a plot line from Insecure on our hands. (Seriously, everyone, please close this tab and go watch the entire show right now; get back together with your ex to steal their HBO login if you must). What happens in the show and the choice Molly (Yvonne Orji) makes is entirely irrelevant to what you decide to do about your situation because she’s a character and this is real life, but it might make you feel less alone, since she, like you, is grappling with a great guy whom she has great sex with, who just so happens to be married.
I want to make it C L E A R upfront that I am not against open marriages or relationships; many are more communicative and honest than closed relationships. I’m not skeptical of his motives (frankly eating your cake and having it too sounds pretty nice). There is most certainly a way that this “works” between the two/three of you. (I know his wife isn’t involved, but she also is). You have to do some hard, hard thinking first though.
The first and biggest thing you must to think about is what you actually want from a relationship right now, whether with this person or not. At no point in your letter do you make it clear what you wanted out of dating. Were you looking for someone in an open relationship because you felt that would mean less commitment? Were you simply looking for a hookup but you like this guy? Or, were you into dating from the get go and you’re wondering what he can/can’t offer? I don’t know. I don’t know if you know. I would take a little chunk of time (a weekend) and let him know that you’re trying to figure what you want out—I’m sure this guy will understand—and while you’re not smack in the middle of good sex and daily love texts, think about what you’re looking for right now. Not, “Oh it will be nice to have a guy like this one day. This is the kind of guy I’m abstractly looking for eventually.” I mean what do you want now. What serves your life best? Obviously, nothing is perfect and everything ends one way or another, so don’t worry about the fact that this may not last forever. All relationships end, so that’s moot. Relationships aren’t only worthwhile or valid if they last until you die. But you don’t want to fall into things simply because they’re pretty good and available.
The second thing you have to think about—which it seems you have already started to do, based on your letter—is what can you handle. Being the secondary partner in an open marriage comes with all kinds of unique challenges and questions. Will you ever see him on holidays? Will you tell your friends and family about the situation? What about people at work? What labels will you two use? What is a relationship if you don’t get the day-in-day-out stuff like grocery shopping and buying a pet together? Do you guys see this as long term or is this for sure only for a few months? Can you stop yourself from trying to “win” him away from his wife (WHICH IS REALLY FUCKED; DO NOT TRY TO DO THAT!!!!!!!!) What does it feel like when he can’t be there for when you’re sick because he’s with his wife for her mothers’s 65th birthday? While you and he may have a wonderful, easy, breezy beautiful relationship between the two of you, I think there will almost certainly come a time when you feel left out, lonely, or ignored. (This happens in closed relationships, too!) But the feeling of being the “outsider” in their relationship can take a toll if it happens too often. And not even great sex and daily fun text exchanges can make up for that.
You may already have answers to all of those questions I just threw out at you. There are millions more I could ask and you could answer. The point isn’t to have an immovable answer to all of them. The point is to think about how you handle things. Are you good at bouncing back from rejection? Are you ok coming in second or does it bother you? Is being left out a trigger for you? Not everyone can handle those things, and I don’t think everyone should be able to handle those things. It feels really, really good to be someone’s first priority. But sometimes people are in a place in their lives (maybe this is you!) where being a bit more on the back burner— or at least like a different side burner— doesn’t bother them at all.
If you do stay in this, you must build a life outside of this dude. Like an EXTRA full life. Like super, super, super full. Your life cannot be waiting with a fully available schedule for when he’s free to be away from his wife. That is not a life, it’s a holding pattern. You must feel you are able to turn him down too because you have something important to do. You must have outside friendships and relationships that provide love and support. You must keep checking in with yourself and him with excruciating honestly and say out loud what works and what hurts.
If you haven’t noticed, this might sound like a lot of extra work. That’s because [confetti horn emoji] IT IS!!!!! It’s a lot of fucking work to navigate. And if what you’re getting is a smoking partner and fuck buddy, I can guaran-damn-tee you that you can find that with a lot of people who do not have wives. If, however, it’s This Guy or Bust, then go for it. If you really want what he’s offering and think you can actually handle it, fabulous, have fun! Otherwise, please do yourself a favor and walk away.
Sophia Benoit writes this very newsletter, she also writes about sex & relationships for GQ, tries to write about Fleetwood Mac for GQ, avoids writing by tweeting at @1followernodad, works full-time as a researcher for Lights Out With David Spade, and has had bylines in The Guardian, Reductress, Refinery29, Allure, and The Cut. She’s also working on a book and at least five TV pilots at any given moment. (But for real, there will be a book soon). You can reach her or yell at her at firstname.lastname@example.org.