Dear Uncle Mat,
Can you explain what an “open relationship” is supposed to be? I am a young and admittedly naïve gay guy who has fallen in love. The man of my dreams is a little older and claims that he only believes in open relationships, that monogamy doesn’t work and is the sure way to relationship doom. I don’t know, since I have never had one: I have dated, but I have never been in love or lived with someone or anything serious like that. I am not sure how I feel about having to share him with other guys, but meanwhile I also don’t fully understand what he wants. I would argue that since he is single, his past “open relationships” must have failed, and there could be some fault in his logic. Right? We have talked about me moving in with him when my lease is up this summer. I really want this, but I don’t know if I am OK with the open-relationship rules, nor do I understand them. Would you help me out with a simple explanation of this kind of relationship, what I should expect, and if you think (or know) that they work?
It means you have sex with other people outside of your relationship. This could be sex with or without each other’s participation. I don’t know that there are universal rules to open relationships. Semantically, you might understand the word “open” to describe not just the actual relationship, but also the concept behind it: Every relationship is “open” to the interpretation of the individuals involved.
If you are not comfortable with “sharing” your lover, this wouldn’t work out in the long run. This is not the kind of arrangement one tends to grow more comfortable with over time. It runs a fuzzy moral line, but I am not fast to judge happiness if it works for you.
I am assuming that the relationship is already open, and the question is whether or not you should continue forward and move in with him. How is the relationship functioning now? Are you happy now? And I am not referring to the blinding emotional fire that is causing you to vomit rainbows at the mention of his name. I am asking you if you feel a sense of wholeness about yourself and your life with him.
The successful open relationships I have known are usually pretty limited on the “open” side, restricted to occasional field trips and tourists. The partners are often best friends and rely much more on their emotional connection, friendship, and the daily camaraderie than on sex to sustain the intimacy between them. Also, they maintain the backbone of any healthy relationship: an uncompromising honesty.
The unsuccessful open relationships I’ve witnessed are emotionally codependent, yet noncommittal. Sometimes they last and other times they bust. If your man has been working the open-relationship angle unsuccessfully for a while then I might guess he falls into this group. He doesn’t want to be alone, but he’s not willing or able to trust a relationship. It’s shaky ground to build on. Don’t go into a relationship if you believe you have to fundamentally change an unwilling person; you can’t.
It is wonderful to be young and naïve and to fall in love. Unfortunately, falling in love does not always result in happy relationships with perfect men. It will, however, teach you the lesson that no man is perfect, but one could be perfect for you. This doesn’t mean unicorns dancing about as you hold hands and walk into the sunset, but it does mean that you provide each other with what you need to sustain a happy life together.
You need to ask your loved one exactly what this relationship means to him. Then ask yourself the same question. And finally, ask yourself who you want to be in a relationship. It’s like asking oneself what you want, but is a little less about self-gratification and more about self-actualization. If you believe in that kind of stuff.
Much love and luck,
Your Uncle Mat
Uncle Mat answers questions about relationships, sex, pets, and art. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org, myspace.com/yourunclemat, or check out the Dear Uncle Mat Page on Facebook. Your true identity is safe with him.