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Sexcapades: Opening yourself up to disaster

Published: February 4, 2011
Section: Opinions


GRAPHIC BY Estie Martin/The Hoot

Open relationships always seem a little too good to be true, you know—you can have your cake and eat it too. They have their benefits (someone who is there for you, emotional stability, companionship) and their negatives (the fact that your partner might be sleeping with other people). So is it worth staying in a relationship you can’t promise to be faithful to?

Now I’m not talking about polyamorous relationships, or pre-subscribed non-monogamous relationships. Those relationships are quite distinct from open relationships, in that open relationships only apply to monogamous relationships. In monogamous relationships, there is an expectation of monogamy (duh!), thereby creating a disconnect in an open relationship. In an open relationship, a person who would normally be monogamous agrees to be polyamorous in order to protect some aspect of their relationship.

Sometimes, especially in college, open relationships seem like the perfect answer to long distance relationships. However, there is always a lingering doubt—what if my partner meets someone else, they hook up a few times and they end up really liking each other? What then? Are we then in an open relationship where I am sharing you with someone else or do we then break up? Additionally, rules must be made about what is acceptable behavior within the relationship. Can we hook up with other people including having sex or can we do anything but penetration? Are dates allowed or just sex? How often will we speak with one another and how much will we share about the other people we are dating?

With so many questions that are hard to answer, I’ve been surprised by the number of people I’ve encountered recently who are in relationships that are either open or similarly non-monogamous. My sophomore spring, I was in a relationship with a guy who was far more interested in me than I was in him. At some point, he asked if we were exclusive and I told him I couldn’t promise that I wouldn’t hook up with other people, although I wouldn’t hook up with any of his friends. If someone had said that to me, I don’t know how I would have reacted but, without the pressure of the situation, I would say that I would probably reject that offer on the grounds of self-respect. This guy accepted what I had told him, however, and remained in a relationship with me until we broke up upon his graduation. Whether or not I actually hooked up with anyone else was not something we ever talked about and so he didn’t know.

Open relationships often lead to trouble, with jealousies becoming very prominent and obvious as time passes. The overwhelming desire to know what one’s partner is doing means that there is often tension that neither party is willing to acknowledge. The admission of jealousy automatically nullifies the “OK”-ness of the open relationship premise and the future of the relationship has to be reviewed. Is it worth it to stay in the relationship and attempt monogamy? Is it worth it to stay in the relationship and pretend to be OK with an open relationship? If these options aren’t viable, then the relationship may have to end.

Open relationships do not have to be doomed and I know a few that are successful. There are a lot of questions, however, that are brought up with the suggestion of an open relationship and these questions should not be ignored. If either partner is at all uncomfortable with the idea of an open relationship for any reason, from jealousy to STI’s, that’s enough to require examination of the situation at hand. Open relationships put people at risk, for both emotional and physical harm. Being hurt by someone you trust is incredibly difficult and contracting an STI from a partner because of their extra-curricular activities is undeniably terrible. These are obviously not the necessary conclusions for open relationships, however. They key is making sure that you’re actually OK with it.