I Never Opened My Marriage, It's Just Always Been That Way

"I'm in an open relationship," I say often. Chances are, folks who've read my work already know this, but for those who haven't, I always say it for good measure. The term "open relationship" is listed in all my dating app bios, like Feeld, for example, and whenever I meet anyone, regardless of romantic interest or not, I mention it because it's part of who I am.

If I meet someone who I find extra interesting, though, I usually find a cool, casual way to slip it in conversation to let them know that I'm interested. (Wink.) But for all the years the term has been intimately ingrained in my life, I've noticed something: the term implies that to be "open," you must have been "closed" in the first place. But I wouldn't know about that: my husband and I have never been monogamous.

For most couples who are looking to explore ethical, consensual non-monogamy, an open relationship is where their minds go — that or swingers. But the umbrella of ENM encompasses much more than that: monogamish, polyamorous, hierarchical polyamory, throuplehood, in addition to, yes, open relationships and swinging.

And while there aren't many statistics (yet) to show it, it's safe to assume that most couples start in a monogamous relationship before moving to one that falls under ENM. After all, our society is primed to start there, leaving little room for anything outside of the norm. Luckily, we live in a time where it doesn't mean we have to stay in the confines of it.

When I say, "I'm in an open relationship," it always brings up questions: How did you open up? What does it take to open up your marriage? How did you get to this place in non-monogamy? My answer, to most people's surprise, is that we started out in an open relationship.

I've known my husband for a long time. We met over eight years ago now, starting out as friends and only friends. See, he was a bit of a self-proclaimed Fuck Boy, traveling the world for work and rarely available. Plus, it didn't help that I was in a long-term relationship with someone else. That someone ended up proposing to me when I was 22, and we married the following year. Unfortunately, for me, though, I found out the hard way that the someone-else wasn't the right someone for me. Long story short, I had newly discovered I was bisexual, and I needed something else in a partnership, so I left.

After my separation, I started casually fucking my now-husband, with both of us having zero intention of something serious. Emphasis on "zero." After all, we were just friends; friends who were deeply attracted to each other, of course.

During our rendezvous in hotel rooms or trips to Joshua Tree together, I found myself telling him stories of my other sexcapades, my infatuation with women, and how encouraging it felt to say everything out loud. He'd tell me about his adventures with other partners too, and I loved hearing every detail.

Now, remember, we were friends before we ever fucked. There was no script, or being on your best behavior the way new couples sometimes have to be, because we already knew and trusted each other. Neither of our truths scared each other away. It was fun to be promiscuous, to be free, to be open. It helped that we were just sleeping together, removing any expectations for something more. Until, of course, we felt something more.

About a year into our non-committal, casual situationship, I realized what I really wanted: an open, polyamorous relationship with him. I didn't say that, though. I was nervous to ask for something more, something serious. Instead, I told him I wanted to see him more, and we naturally fell into a more committed relationship over time. We did couples things, like having a drawer ready at each other's apartments and going on trips together. We talked to each other all day.

At some point, we did recognize and start using the term "open relationship" to describe us as a unit, but it never felt like a big deal. As we got closer, and our relationship reached new depths, neither of us felt like it was a point of contention or something that needed to go away. It was just a part of our relationship. For me, I realized I've always been non-monogamous on some level, but didn't have the words to describe it, much less partners who would accept it. For him, he felt like he'd always tried to fit himself inside the box of monogamy, and he realized it didn't have to be that way. We could be together, and share our lives in a meaningful way, and still be with other partners.

I want to acknowledge that, yes, we are very privileged to have the relationship dynamic we have. When we entered the ENM community, we hadn't experienced the same struggles other exploring couples might: going from closed to open, dealing with sharing your partner for the first time, navigating jealousy, wondering which labels work and which don't.

In many ways, because we've always been open, we skated through a lot of the hardship that can come with initial non-monogamous couplehood, which in turn allowed us to experience the greater joys that usually come after years of non-monogamy: to feel completely secure, uplifted, and seen by your partner in a real way. Sure, we've had our own challenges — particularly in navigating the one-penis policy, where a woman can only sleep with other women but not men — but we were able to work through them with conversation, access to an ENM-specialized couples therapist, and a deep desire to know one another more.

My forever partner — even if we have other partners, too.

We don't have to hide anything from one another, we can experience our sexuality freely and fully, and above all else, we know that we truly love each other for all that we are. For me, being open isn't just about sleeping with other people or going on dates. Being open isn't about flirting in a coffee shop, swiping on someone new, or even going to sex parties with my husband. For me, it's about being able to acknowledge who I am and what I desire, knowing I won't be judged for it. I can be transparent and honest with my husband in a way I could never be honest with any partner I'd ever had before, and that alone made me realize he was the one for me: my forever partner — even if we have other partners, too.

We've been fucking for five years, in love for four years, and married for two months. Yes, we're ethically non-monogamous. Yes, we date together. Yes, we date separately. Yes, I know about you and he knows about you. We're in love. We're committed. We're playful. We're open. We're all the things I was searching for.

Hayley Folk is a freelance writer, editor, and podcast host based in New York City. She is the host of the "Naked Folk" podcast — a sexual wellness and relationships podcast — and she writes for major publications about the LGBTQ+ community, travel, lifestyle, sex, and wellness. In 2022, she received her master of fine arts in creative writing from The New School.