5 Myths You Learn Aren't True When You Date Someone in an Open Relationship

5 Myths You Learn Aren't True When You Date Someone in an Open Relationship
Source: Getty
Source: Getty

All it took was one run-in with my ex and his new girlfriend to get me to reluctantly make an online dating profile. I tried to keep it together as I spoke to them, even shaking my replacement's hand while quickly judging her in my head. But after they left, I called a friend, crying. 

"How could he already be in a relationship?" I yelled over the phone. "I'm not ready for that!"

It wasn't like I hadn't been hooking up with people. But the situations kept ending in uncomfortable "so what are we?" conversations I wasn't prepared for. I wasn't yet in the place to be a good partner, but I still wanted the experience of connecting with someone.  

Which is how I ended up surprising myself when a message popped up in my OkCupid inbox.  He said he was in an open relationship, and everything was good with his girlfriend. Would I like to grab drinks sometime?  

I had assumptions about what open relationships entail and the kind of people who get into them. Open relationships are consensually non-monogamous, and while the definitions vary, they usually involve a primary, committed partner with additional secondary partners on the side (as opposed to polyamory, which assumes multiple romantic partners).

But I decided to get over the assumptions and just try it — and it changed so much of what I thought. Not only was it a personal relief to date people who didn't have expectations of me emotionally, but I also learned how so many stereotypes about open relationships are just plain wrong. Here are five myths about open relationships we need to stop repeating.

Myth 1: People in open relationships are more promiscuous than monogamous people.

Plenty of people imagine open relationships to involve tons of casual, no-strings-attached sex and maybe even sex parties — that was my skeptical and insecure assumption before meeting people in open relationships. But open relationships aren't so much about more sex, just different sex. 

"I've never been very excited by the prospect of lifelong marriage to one person, so for me, it helps just to have the possibility of new sex," Hailee*, a 30-year-old woman in an open relationship, told Mic. "Then I'm not relying on the sex drive of one exhausted man. I can branch out." 

One couple, Nick and Cate, told Salon that their sex lives were active before they opened their marriage, but that letting each other explore different sexual experiences was a game-changer.

"There's that possibility, if you're having drinks with someone, or, say, see someone standing on the subway, for example... there is a sense of possibility [for sex] that is lovely to live with — even if you never, ever exercise it," Cate told Salon. That exciting sexual variety, rather than promiscuity for the sake of it, is one benefit of open relationships.

Myth 2: People are only in open relationships for the sex.

There's a strong assumption that someone opens up their relationship simply because they're looking for a hall pass to sleep with anyone they want, whenever they want. Just take this presumptuous line from a Men's Fitness article: "We know the 'benefits.' But what are the costs?"

But the assumed "benefits" aren't just sexual. Having dated several people in open relationships, Jonathan, 23, told Mic, "The guy was actually interested in creating an emotional bond. He was genuinely interested in me as a person and not just a hook-up. I was surprised that sex wasn't always expected."  

"He messaged me on OkCupid," said Nicole, 29, "and I let the message sit for a few months before responding." She was in a similar situation to myself.  She also held a lot of assumptions about open relationships. "I wanted to see someone on a more regular basis, but without the full commitment of dating and having to wonder where it was going."  She ended up going out with the guy, and not just once.  They saw each other regularly for six months, and Nicole even got to know his girlfriend.  

I found the same — that the men I went out with were not solely interested in sex. They were happy to have a conversation and get to know me, whether that led to sex or not.   

Myth 3: Open relationships are just a way to justify cheating.

Contrary to popular perceptions, people in open relationships aren't necessarily unhappy with their current relationships, lacking in love or looking to stray. Charlotte, 26, told Mic that an open relationship brought her closer to her boyfriend.  

"I didn't feel like I had to be in love with this person or had to do certain obligatory things," she said. "I chose to be with this person. I chose them to be the one who I pick at the end of the day. They were my primary. By letting me feel not chained down by the confines of a monogamous relationship, I loved them even more for it, for I felt like I could truly be myself."

Jonathan said that in dating those in open relationships, the goal didn't seem to be to cheat. "I was surprised that his other partner knew when he was spending time with me and had at least some knowledge about who I was," he said, noting their dates didn't feel the slightest bit furtive. 

After sleepovers with one man in an open relationship who i was seeing, it was not uncommon for him to answer the phone in bed when his girlfriend called, chatting briefly about their nights out and their plans together for later that day. It never bothered me because we were both clear about our expectations for each other — and it didn't seem to bother her to know there was someone else beside her boyfriend.

Myth 4: Open relationships require strict rules for sex.

Listening to sex and relationship podcasts like Savage Love and reading expert perspectives would give you the impression that a healthy open relationship requires clearly spelled-out rules, like saving certain sexual acts just for each other or weekly schedules, that are the cornerstones of the of relationships.

I assumed that there would be a strict no-sleepover policy, seeing as sleeping together in the same bed was an important part of my now-extinct monogamous relationship. Awkwardly, I commented to one of the guys I was seeing, "So... you're going to stay, like, the entire night?"  

But in my experience and from the couples I spoke to, I found that very few people have rules beyond those that involve health: Be safe, use a condom and be honest. Nick and Cate told Salon theirs are also simple: "No sneaking around, safe sex and we each have veto power." 

"We try to give each other ample notice when we're going out, and keep each other updated while we're out, especially if it's going to be a really late night, or if one of us isn't going to come home," Brett, 33 and in an open relationship with his girlfriend, told Mic. "The biggest rule we have is that we don't bring anyone back to our home."  

Myth 5: Open relationships ultimately break people apart.

Many people seem supremely offended by open relationships, viewing them as an affront to serious committed relationships, especially marriage. But couples often decide to open up their relationships in order to save them, not harm them. Dating other people can take the pressure off of one's significant other to be everything for the other person.  

In my last relationship, just the thought of me talking to other men made my ex go crazy. Wouldn't jealousy get the best of couples in open relationships? But I realized that the thing monogamous couples are most afraid of — sex outside of the relationship — is a non-issue for those in open relationships, as long as open communication and honesty are held in high regard. 

"It made the fighting less intense because we both were forced to recognize that one person isn't meant to completely fulfill either of us and you still have to meet new people and try new things outside of the relationship, and dating is a fun way to do that," Hailee said.

Brett opened up his relationship with his girlfriend six months ago and told Mic it's helped their connection immensely. "People are conditioned to believe that a monogamous relationship is the only type of relationship you can have, and that anything else is taboo or wrong," he said. "However, I think if you pressed some people on those beliefs, you'd find it's more about maintaining some kind of status quo than a rational prejudice. If two people are happy being in an open relationship, and no one is being deceitful, who is anyone to judge or care?"

 * Name has been changed to allow subject to speak freely on private matters.