Ask Dr. Nerdlove by Harris O'Malley

How Do We Make an Open Relationship Work?

DEAR DR. NERDLOVE: I’m one of those lucky guys who met their significant other pretty damn early in their life. In my case she is my second girlfriend and I met her even before college. I married her a few years ago and we still have a very affectionate and fulfilled relationship. But nevertheless, now being in my late twenties, I have to admit to myself that I’m probably not so much into life-long monogamy.

Fortunately, my wife feels the same and so we read your articles about non-monogamy and talked a lot about the pros and cons of opening the relationship. While neither of us is really comfortable with the idea of an actual open relationship, we both agreed that some extra-martial action is tolerable as long as we keep it secret and within reasonable limits (though keeping it secret from one another might make it hard to gauge and maintain a certain symmetry in our respective promiscuity). 

So I decided to keep my eyes open for a potential partner in crime, became more outgoing and more comfortable with flirting, but I soon noticed a problem which puzzled me: Is there any way I can tell a woman that I’m interested in a sexual adventure or even a little romance, but that she has to accept the fact that my wife is my number one and that there’s no chance I would dump a decade long relationship for a casual hook-up without sounding like a jerk?

Though I’m quite sure that there’s a tremendous number of women who are interested in that sort of no strings attached flings, directly approaching them and saying something along in the lines of “Hey, I think you’re hot and it’d be great if the two of us made your bed squeak this weekend, as long as you don’t tell my wife!” could be just a little too much for a girl you just met in a coffee shop.

On the other hand, asking a woman out, having a date or two and eventually telling her that “Yeah, I enjoyed your company (and your soft parts), but you know, there’s this girl I’m married to and you’d better not call me again. Sorry if you misunderstood my intentions” would make me a complete a

hole to say the least.

So, Doc, where do you see the golden mean between those extremes? Or do you recommend something entirely different?

Married My Second Girlfriend

DEAR MARRIED MY SECOND GIRLFRIEND: First of all, good for you for having the sort of relationship that you and your wife can communicate your desires openly and honestly!

As a general rule, I am a big believer in full disclosure when it comes to opening up the relationship, and I’m sure many of the poly and monogamish readers of the column are too. This is important if only so that both of you can provide a certain level of accountability to one another with regards to your limits, as well as to be able to touch base with how you both are feeling about the matter. I tend to believe that more communication is better in general, but even more so with open relationships. If nothing else, you may find that talking about what the two of you have been doing with your outside partners may bring new and unexpected sexual excitement to your own relationship.

But hey, everybody gets to make the rules for their own relationships and if being mutually discrete makes it work for you, go for it… with one caveat that I will get to in a moment.

Finding a new partner while you’re in an open relationship can be tricky. There will be plenty of people who just aren’t cool with banging a married man, no matter what permission slips his wife has given to him, which is why I generally recommend early disclosure… ideally before you go on that first date. It’s only fair that you let them know in advance what they’re signing on for. Yes, this means that there will be women who will refuse to date or sleep with you right off the bat; this is the price you pay for being ethically open rather than a cheating piece-of-s

t going behind his wife’s back.

Now, there ARE women out there who are interested in no-strings-attached sex and there are women who won’t mind playing around with a guy who already has a girlfriend or a wife. Some will get off on “seducing” a married man into cheating, while others won’t mind as long as she can actually confirm with your wife that you’re actually on the up and up about being in a semi-open relationship and not a cheating piece-of-s

t who’s just saying whatever it takes to get laid. And believe me, there are plenty of dudes out there who will say “Yeah, my wife’s totally cool with this, no need to ask her…” in order to get into somebody’s panties.

Thus the exception: while in an ideal world the two of you would have a complete DADT arrangement, if she wants to talk to your wife – or meet with her, without you – in order to make sure you have permission to be let off the leash, you make the arrangements. If you and the wife aren’t cool with this… well, you’re more or less going to have to accept that there will be people who would otherwise love to sleep with you that are now considered out of bounds. Sorry.

That having been said, you may have an easier time finding potential partners by looking for people who’ve already opted into ethical non-monogamy. You can start by creating accounts on various dating apps that have options for open relationships. OKCupid specifically allows people to indicate that they’re in an open relationship, while apps like Hinge and #Open are designed with polyamory and non-monogamy in mind. This helps smooth out the conversations surrounding whether or not your potential play partner is ok with dating a married man, and it helps ensure that everyone is on the same page about where that relationship is going.

Similarly, while this may not fall within your mutual secrecy pact, it may be worth your time to find the local poly community and make inroads there. Getting to know people within that community makes it much easier to find people who would not only be open to dating or sex but who are much more likely to respect the rules you two have established.

You may also be interested in checking out sex clubs or swingers events as well. While yes, this does mean that you’re not going to be able to maintain the illusion of ignorance as easily, it does put you in a locale where you can potentially find partner who what what you have to offer. And the fact that you met them at those parties or clubs doesn’t mean that you have to hook up with them there. You and your wife can just as easily make arrangements to meet up later and pretend that neither of you has any idea.

In the meantime, I’d recommend you do your due diligence and read up on ethical non-monogamy. I’d recommend starting with The Ethical Slut: A Practical Guide to Polyamory, Open Relationships & Other Adventures by Dossie Easton and Janet W. Harvey, then move to Opening Up by Tristain Taormino and Building Open Relationships: Your hands-on guide to swinging, polyamory, and beyond! by Dr. Liz Powell. These will help serve as a guide for navigating the tricky ethics of open relationships. It covers all of these issues and many that you and your wife may not have thought of.

Good luck!

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