True Story: I’m in an open marriage

Could you ever be in an open marriage? Would you want a marriage that wasn't monogamous? Click through for one woman's story about how opening her marriage improved every thing.
How would you feel if your spouse told you they wanted to date other people … while still being married to you? Would you ever want a boyfriend and a husband? Today, Cristin is sharing the story of her open marriage and the benefits she and her husband have found from being monogam-ish.
Tell us a bit about yourself!
I’m a 26 year old writer in a smallish, artsy, east coast city. In my free time I mostly hike and take road trips. I’m married to my high school sweetheart, who I’ve been with for ten wonderful years.
For those of us who don’t know, what does it mean to have an open marriage?
It’s one of those terms that can mean different things to different people. For us it means we’re free to date people outside our relationship. We try to keep things casual with outside people, since we’re not looking for a permanent addition to our marriage.
If you’re familiar with Dan Savage, it’s pretty much what he calls monogamish. It’s an evolution though, so I don’t know if things will look different in the future.
Is this different than polyamory?
For us it is. Most poly-amorous relationships have more than two people in a long term relationship together as equals partners. For us, our marriage comes first and anyone we see on the side is more casual. We try to be up front and transparent with anyone we meet that we’re not looking for a  long term relationship with them.
Growing up, how did you think about commitment and monogamy?
I’m not really sure where I first heard about open relationships, but for as long as I can remember it’s sounded appealing to me. Growing up in a fairly conservative family, I had never encountered a non-traditional relationship before I was in one myself. I think the fact that it’s not very common and subversive was part of the appeal to me.
I do remember reading The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo in college, and one of the characters is married but occasionally spends the night with another guy, and her husband is aware and fine with it. And I remember thinking that sounded awesome.
A lot of people I’ve talked to say they would like that kind of freedom for themselves, but they wouldn’t want their partner to have the same option, which is why they don’t try it.
What made you and your husband first consider opening your relationship? 
It seems weird to say it, but it felt natural in our relationship. We’ve been together so long, we have a really high level of trust in each other. I remember the first time it came up was a night in college when I drunkenly made out with a guy at a party.
The next morning I told my husband (then boyfriend) and I was really nervous he would be upset, but he was totally cool about it and we ended up laughing about it.
After that, we discussed cheating and both agreed for us it wouldn’t be a deal breaker as long as the cheater fessed up. There were a couple more times in college when one of us kissed someone else or we both were involved in some truth or dare shenanigans. We always talked about it and found we were honestly comfortable with it.
After college, once we got engaged we realized we’d never be romantically involved with anyone else. We were kind of bummed we missed out on the twenties experience of casually dating. After talking about it for a long time, we decided to give non-monogamy a shot. That was two and a half years ago and we’re happy as ever and still non- monogamous.
Do you have any ‘ground rules’ when it comes to dating?
We started with a lot of rules but they’ve changed as we’ve gotten more comfortable with being open. We have to tell each other right away if we hook up with or meet someone else, and always answer any questions the other person has.
We prefer to meet the other person’s boyfriend/girlfriend and have actually stayed friends with a couple of people we met through dating.
We generally only see other people when the other person is out of town. And to be fair to the outside people we see, we try not to bother each other too much with texts and calls if they’re currently out with someone else.
Mostly our rule is we have to always be honest and always willing to talk. Everything else is negotiable.
Tell us about the first guy you dated while being married.
Oh god I was so awkward. I hadn’t been on a first date since I was sixteen, and I just had no idea what I was doing. I met the guy on Tinder, and he ended up being super cool about everything, but there’s no etiquette book for open relationships, you know?
I was nervous about my husband freaking out and changing his mind, and my husband was nervous about how things would go too, so there were some growing pains. There was one time I answered my phone in the middle of sex with the other guy because my husband was calling (I am cringing so hard right now even typing that). And a ton of other incredibly cringe-worthy moments.
There’s always part of me that’s tempted to reach back out to that first guy and be like “I’m so sorry you had to deal with that!” Once we figured out what works, it’s a lot less awkward now.
But despite that, seeing that first guy was exciting and totally spiced things up with my husband, because it got me to see him as a hot guy who wants to be with me all the time, instead of a sure thing.
I’m not sure if that makes sense, but if you’ve been with the same person for 10 years, you probably understand the feeling of taking your significant other for granted, and being with someone else made me appreciate what I already had.
How do you guys meet the people you date? And how do you bring up the fact that you’re married?
I’m not the type of person to meet new people in person (even most of my platonic friends I met online), so all the people I’ve dated I’ve met online. It also allows me to be super up front about our situation and the fact that I’m married.
I live in a fairly small city, and met the second guy I dated online but he actually turned out to be coworkers with the first guy!
My husband is way more extroverted and he’s met women in person mostly. Since he usually meets people through mutual friends and it’s since it’s open knowledge in our friend group they usually know right away.
Do you ever feel jealous? Does your husband?
Since we’ve basically grown up together, our relationship is rock solid and extremely trusting. I find it weirdly hot to see my husband with other women and I always ask a million questions when he comes back from a date.
My husband doesn’t have the same interest in the details, but he’s totally fine with me seeing other people.
We do check in often to make sure everyone is comfortable, including the two of us and whoever we’re dating.
Have either you or your husband ever developed serious feelings for anyone you dated? What would you do if either of you did? 
Not really. I think because we’re very clearly going into any outside relationship with very defined boundaries, things stay in friends-with-benefits territory.
If it were to happen, there’d definitely be more discussion and we’d need to figure out what we wanted to do.
We try to be fair and kind to the people we date and be considerate of their feelings too. There are some couples who kind of take advantage of the other people they see, or don’t care about their feelings, so we are really mindful of that. It’s (obviously) important to remember we’re not the only ones involved and outside people’s feelings are just as important.
What needs do your boyfriends meet that your husband isn’t? 
It’s mostly novelty for me, and the taboo of sex outside marriage (even if it’s totally allowed!). I’d imagine it’s the same thing that makes cheating hot. Just holding hands with someone who’s not my husband, walking through my neighborhood is weirdly exciting, like someone we know could see us.
Sleeping with someone else changes the way I think about sex. Sex in a long term relationship can get routine, but if you spend the occasional night at your boyfriend’s house, it turns the routine on its head. It’s totally improved our married sex life in a million ways.
What are the biggest misconceptions about people in open relationships? 
When we came out to our friends, some of them thought we were going to break up. So I think it’s common for people to think we’re trying to fill some hole in our relationship. But it’s not making up for something that’s not there, it’s a fun bonus on top of a great relationship.
Also a lot of women are suspicious of guys who say they’re in an open relationship (they think he’s just unfaithful), so that kind of sucks.
Do the people in your life know about your open marriage? 
At first we didn’t tell anyone, but we’ve slowly come out to our friends. The conversation usually starts with “So we have some weird news to share…” Most of our friends are super liberal and were interested to hear more. A few were just like “Why?” but when they realized we weren’t breaking up and it didn’t really effect them, it wasn’t a big deal.
My parents are conservative, so I’ll probably never tell them, but our siblings know. I was so nervous to tell my sister since she is pretty religious, but we’re really close and I felt bad keeping it from her. And she was just like “Oh, I’m on Tumblr I know about these things.”
What have you learned from this that ANY of us could apply to our daily lives? 
Communication is so important, and being straightforward and open about your feelings is hard but worth it.
Thanks so much for sharing your story, Cristin! Do you guys have any questions for her?

As a sidenote, I realize that non-monogamous relationships are not for everyone and some people might take offense to Cristin and her husband’s choices. Respectful disagreement is always welcome. Incendiary comments will be deleted.

P.S. Other relationship-y interviews: I dated a transman, I waited till marriage to have sex, and I joined Ashley Madison and now I’m sleeping with 4 married guys. 

photo by Caleb Ekeroth // cc

7 Comments

Katy Werring | Saturday Spent Well

This was so interesting to read! Personally, I am all for whatever people want, as long as you are safe and consenting. Cristin’s right; it’s all about communication.

I have to say, I love her sister’s reaction: “Oh, I’m on Tumblr I know about these things.” It made me laugh. Tumblr: an unintended resource for educating the masses on topics they don’t teach you in school.

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Abby

This was such an interesting read.
My question for Cristin is how do you get to that point of trust? I can’t imagine myself ever trusting my partner in such a way. Is that a bad thing? Maybe I couldn’t trust myself not to get too attached to someone else, so I worry that my partner might be that way, too.
Wouldn’t it break your heart a little bit to hear he wanted to be with someone just as much as he wants to be with you? No disrespect here – just curiosity and a genuine interest on the trust portion of open marriages (because I’d love to be a more trusting person).

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Cristin

Hi!

All really good questions! I’m not sure how we ended up at this level of trust, I think it probably has to do with making it through graduating high school, going away to college and getting jobs after college with our relationship still in tact. Maybe we’re a weird case? hah.

I definitely don’t think it’s a bad thing if you don’t think it’s right for you, or don’t have that particular brand of trust. I do have a close friend who is also in a monogamish relationship, and they’ve been dating for a much shorter time– 1.5 years (they went into it non-monogamously) and they’ve had some bumps along the way as they get more serious with each other, not being as comfortable with seeing outside people. They’re still trying to figure out what works for them and what they’re comfortable with.

For us, the importance of setting expectations up front with the people we see outside the relationship is huge for trusting each other. The guy I would say I had the most successful outside relationship with (We’re not seeing each other romantically anymore, but we hang out with him and his girlfriend all the time!) is a super straightforward, no bullshit type of person. Because of that, we were both really upfront about everything, and it was very literally friends-with-benefits.

The thing about my husband seeing someone else is that I know at the end of the day he’s going to come home to me, and he’s going to choose me over someone else every time (and vice versa) and there’s something romantic about that to me.

Last thing before I end this ramble-y, novel length comment: The thing I’ve learned most from this whole experience, is that there are no rules for romantic relationships. We tend to think dating > monogamous long term relationship as the only path, but there are so many other possibilities!

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Manisha

One of my closest friends is in an open marriage. They are a solid couple. I don’t know much about his interests but my friend has an on going relationship with a colleague she sees at conferences and such. Sometimes they will plan a hiking trip together after the conference. It works well for my friend and her husband. They trust each other and they are both clear about why they are together and that mostly is about getting old together. I was glad to see this interview!

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Leah

I really appreciate you sharing! Definitely not for me, and interviews like this confirm it, but I always appreciate getting to know how people all think and experience life differently.

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diana

I love the comment that there are so many different ways to have relationships beyond just the traditional monogamous married life we think of traditionally.
I think I would be a fan of married but living separately…I love my own space!
Thanks, great article.

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