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What Being in an Open Relationship Is Like

What a Nonmonogamous Relationship Is Really Like and Why I'll Never Do It Again

My boyfriend and I had been together for two and a half years when he told me he wanted to be in an open relationship. He had never brought up this idea before, but he had recently run into an old friend who had been in a series of polygamous relationships for the last several years. I suppose my boyfriend felt inspired to dabble in the same lifestyle — and I would be lying if I said I didn't also feel curious about the prospect of having sex with other people.

Anyone who has ever been in a long-term relationship knows that sex doesn't stay the same. Sean* and I had hit an all-time low, and we were lucky if we were having sex once a month. After traveling the world together and seeing just about every emotion and edge of one another, the sparks weren't exactly flying anymore.

We sat down and talked about some boundaries, thinking we were being very responsible, very progressive adults. The conversation went well and we both left the room feeling confident that we were going to defy the odds and make this happen. So what if people who had been down this path before had advised against it?! We were different! We were evolved!

The next several months were nothing short of a disaster. When people think about being in an open relationship, the first thing they think of is how great it's going to be to make out with another person, be touched by another person, climb into bed with another person. The novelty of that thought is electrifying. What doesn't cross their mind, though, is what it would be like for their partner, whom they love and have shared truly intimate experiences with, to climb into bed with someone else.

Sean was the first to have sex with someone else. He wasn't entirely honest with me about the details right after it happened. I had to slowly and painfully pull the truth out of him over the course of three days. It was a woman that neither of us knew, and they didn't even exchange information after it was all said and done. I guess that was comforting, in a way.

Nothing significant changed between us after that encounter. We continued living our lives as normal — going to work, cleaning the house together on Saturday morning, Skyping with our families. There was one small shift, though: Sean was more affectionate with me than before, and he was more interested in having sex. Odd, I thought, but I'll take it.

But after living through both sides, I can say that the singular intimacy my current partner and I share . . . is far more rewarding than any sexual encounter you could ever present to me.

But after a week or so, I started to set my eyes on someone I could have sex with. I needed to get laid, to put it bluntly. At my CrossFit gym, there was a guy who had caught my eye. It didn't take long for us to connect, and soon enough I was having truly mind-blowing sex with a chiseled dude I couldn't keep my hands off of. It was refreshing and thrilling to have someone appreciate my body in such a fervent way; I hadn't experienced that kind of passion in months.

When I told Sean the truth, he became furious. Suddenly our discussion of rules and boundaries flew out the window, and we suddenly found ourselves in a stinking, complicated pile of jealousy and rage. We tried to patch things up. We fought over and over again. We made up again. This cycle continued for a while, until Sean finally accused me of cheating on him and I told him he was too immature to ever be happy in a monogamous relationship. I suppose you just never know how envious and spiteful human beings can be get until their back is against the wall.

It wasn't long before we endured a messy breakup. We blamed each other for our pain, bringing up every single thing the other had done wrong over the last three years. It was hurtful. It was childish. Next thing I knew, he moved out of our home and I was left to pick up the pieces.

Maybe Sean and I just weren't right for each other. (OK, we definitely weren't right for each other.) I did consider the fact that perhaps open relationships can work for the right people, but after months of trying (and trying and trying) with a man I truly loved, I don't know if I could ever recommend a nonmonogamous relationship for anyone, no matter how compatible they are with their partner.

We live in a world where multiple choices are always at our fingertips. We're told that the more convenient something is, the better. We can have meals delivered right to our doorstep, we can get every episode of our favorite show in the blink of an eye, and all we have to do is pull out our dating app if we want to have sex. It's considered old-fashioned, or even conservative, to consider a monogamous relationship where two people share the sacredness of sex with each other and no one else.

But after living through both sides, I can say that the singular intimacy my current partner and I share — both sexually and emotionally — is far more rewarding than any sexual encounter (or CrossFit dude) you could ever present to me. I know there will be a time when we briefly become sexually disinterested in each other. It's only natural. But when that time comes, we will choose to refine, grow, and nurture our intimacy rather than turn away from it and put our attention to outside sex.

It's the difficult choice. It takes more work than simply finding a one-night stand to fulfill our sexual desires. But I'm sure it's much more sustainable in the long run, and I can definitively say that there's freedom to be found in a devoted partner who is fully committed to you.

*Names have been changed

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