Open relationships can be hugely beneficial, but sometimes they’re not

It’s great when the flavors all work together

“Mmm…. Maybe we could do it for real?” She turned toward me, propped up on one elbow, looking intently at my face to judge my reaction.

“We could,” I said, non-noncommittally. “If it’s something you think you’d really enjoy.”

“It really turns me on,” she breathed softly into my ear. “And you could have fun too…”

After another bout of hour-long passion we resumed the conversation. She’d been thinking a lot about having a mutually consensual open relationship, something that would add spice and variety to our already intense relationship in which great sex played a major role.

I’d had plenty of threesomes and moresomes in my past, as well as periods of ethical individual non-monogamy with other partners. In principle I continued to feel the idea was essentially good. After all, our species is inherently semi-monogamous and it’s the lies people tell to hide infidelity that do the most harm, not the act itself.

That said, I also knew that non-monogamy isn’t for everyone. A certain level of emotional maturity and self-awareness is required, as well as deep respect for one’s partner. Jealousy, conflicting emotions, unresolved tensions between what you feel and what you subconsciously believe you ought to feel, and so much more can disrupt what ought to be an exciting and growth-oriented approach to life.

“Okay,” I agreed. “How would you like to begin?”

“Maybe with another couple?”

I sighed. “That’s probably the least likely. It’s difficult enough to find a single person; it’s nearly impossible to find another couple. Each woman has to like the two people across the table, and the guys have to feel compatible. It’s an n-squared problem.”

“Oh.” She was clearly disappointed.

“Here’s the easiest way to begin,” I continued. “You find a man you’re interested in. You go off and have an adventure. Then we can see how it goes from there.”

“Really?” She sounded very surprised. I knew she’d assumed I’d propose a girl-boy-girl threesome. It is, after all, the standard naïve man’s fantasy.

Real life, however, is very different and I’d had sufficient experience to know that MFM is the easiest thing in the world to arrange, FMF is difficult (unless you pay for an escort), and FMFM is the most difficult to arrange of all. Unless you want to frequent a swinger’s club and hope for the best, which in my experience merely led to a lot of very tedious wasted evenings.

So we agreed on the approach: she’d create a profile on one of the websites that specializes in people looking for recreational sex and she’d select a half-dozen or so men she felt could be suitable. I’d warned her that she might need to select ten or twelve before finding one or two who really panned out.

In the event her enthusiasm rapidly took over and within a week she had fifteen men she was corresponding with, each message exchange becoming more flirty and more explicit. She was very aroused by all of this and during that week our sex life became even more intense than before, which was great because it was, after all, the point of the whole exercise.

Vanilla couples don’t realize it but bringing other people into your sex life can create a much closer and more intense bond between you and your partner — provided it’s done correctly.

Unfortunately for us, we didn’t stay on the road we’d intended to travel.

She had several lovers over the next few weeks. At first she’d come back pleasure-soaked and we’d have vigorous intense sex for hours while she described what she’d done and how she’d enjoyed it. When the idea of me having an adventure or two of my own was broached, however, it was clear she wasn’t ready to cope emotionally so we shelved that side of things.

Then we tried a threesome with another man. I’ve always been totally relaxed about MFM and have enjoyed them a lot in the past. Now, however, she was too self-conscious and early in the experience it became obvious I needed to leave them alone to enjoy each other. My presence was simply too confusing and distracting for her.

Then, when I was on a business trip, she decided it would be fun to do it with another couple. And it was fun, for her. She told me she loved going down on another woman while being fucked from behind, in one opening after the other. She wanted to do it again with other couples she’d found online. As many FMF threesomes as she could find.

But not with me, because she was afraid I’d like another woman more than her. She didn’t think she could cope with her jealousy and insecurity.

Now we were in what was clearly an unhealthy dynamic. I was essentially relegated to the sidelines, often staying alone at home while she went out for another adventure with some hot guy or couple she’d found online. She talked endlessly about doing a FMF threesome with me but always became highly agitated if we even began talking about how to make it happen for real.

And then she started coming home from her adventures and complaining about them.

On one occasion she met a guy after work and after a brief dinner went back to his place and fucked for several hours, long enough for him to cum in her five times and for her to have multiple orgasms. She came home at 2am and proceeded to complain about the fact his hair color wasn’t quite what she’d expected, that the wall art in his apartment wasn’t to her taste, and that he’d had the wrong brand of toothpaste in his bathroom.

On another occasion she came back mid-morning after having spent fifteen hours with another couple. From her initial description it was clear everyone had enjoyed themselves thoroughly, but then she began to complain about the bed linen, the bathroom towels, the fact the husband’s cock had been just a little too thick for her asshole so she’d had to put up with discomfort while going down on his wife and it had distracted her and besides she didn’t like the woman’s perfume so much.

As you can imagine, this didn’t exactly generate an erotic mood between us.

Things got worse and worse, until finally I proposed we put a moratorium in place to give us time to talk about how things were turning out and look for ways to make things more positive.

She was not at all happy about this suggestion.

In my experience it’s not uncommon for open relationships to become very unbalanced. This is always going to be the case to some degree because it’s effortless for a woman to find multiple men but it’s exceedingly difficult for a man to find even one woman who’s interested in being with someone who already has a partner. But this imbalance can be dealt with and incorporated into the dynamic if both people are emotionally mature and self-aware.

When one or both people lack these qualities, however, it’s difficult to avoid ending up in a place that is satisfactory for neither.

In the end we broke up. Mostly it was because she disapproved of the way I was raising my two children. In her view, I needed to be far more authoritarian, punish them far more severely for any transgressions, and be less emotionally supportive of them. But part of why we broke up was because our experiment with non-monogamy was undone by her inability to reconcile the pleasure she derived from her adventures with the old patterning she’d inherited from her parents and her cultural influences. She’d attempted to square the circle by going off and having a wonderful time and then returning to me to complain for hours about minor details.

Not surprisingly, this wasn’t a successful strategy.

I’ve had a couple of open relationships since then and they’ve been far less fraught and far more mutually rewarding. But I’ve learned from hard experience that unless we’re ready and able to do the necessary inner emotional work it’s all too easy for things to turn down the wrong path and create distance instead of greater connection.

As they say in US advertisements: your mileage may vary.

Anyone who enjoys my articles here on Medium may be interested in my books Why Democracy Failed and The Praying Ape, both available from Amazon.

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