What Happened When I Tried To Be In An Open Relationship

I thought, 'Sleeping with girls could be fun.'
PHOTO: istockphoto

Before I get into how I got into an open relationship (and why the set-up failed), I need to talk about my state of mind at the time.

Although I was an Account Manager at a successful independent advertising agency, I dreaded every single day at work. My mistakes were minor, but they felt like major fuck-ups to my boss. I woke up thinking that I needed to get through the day just so I wouldn't go broke, and a part of me knew that this wasn't the career path for me. I wasn't fully confident in my capabilities as a writer back then, and I was scared of pursuing it professionally. I tried to convince myself that I was happy because of the money I was making and that meant I could spend on (almost) anything I wanted.

What I really wanted was a break from my dead-end desk job. After a particularly rough day at work, I asked my boyfriend, Jonathan*, if he was okay with me sleeping with other people.

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And by other people, I meant women. I told him I was bisexual on our first date. And I first knew for myself when I kissed a girl back in my sophomore year of college. He has always been supportive of me exploring my sexuality and didn't bat an eyelash when I finally told him that I wanted to try casually dating girls on the side, too. He agreed, as long as I would tell him everything, including who I would go out with and where. We both have a voyeurism kink, and if the girl agreed to it, he could watch us in person or through videos. After every encounter, I'd send him nudes and meet him as soon as I could. Sleeping with girls could be fun, but that didn't mean I wanted him any less.

After a particularly rough day at work, I asked my boyfriend, Jonathan*, if he was okay with me sleeping with other people.

All but one of my encounters came from dating apps. To be fair to him, he was logged into my apps on his phone too, and I told every girl I matched with that my boyfriend was also privy to our conversations. We had to be as open as possible after all, and secrets could easily destroy the trust we built over the years. It happened to an open couple we knew who split after four years, and we didn't want something similar to happen to us. We had full access to each other's social media accounts as well.

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Jonathan isn't bisexual per se, but more bicurious. He had a boyfriend once in high school but had to break up with him when his conservative parents found out about his relationship. He hasn't been able to explore that side of his sexuality since then, and I agreed that he could apply the same rules given to me, but could only see boys. Later on in the day, I was logged onto his dating apps as well and felt pretty excited about the slew of cute boys he managed to match with.

We both have a voyeurism kink, and if the girl agreed to it, he could watch us in person or through videos. After every encounter, I'd send him nudes and meet him as soon as I could. Sleeping with girls could be fun, but that didn't mean I wanted him any less.

It didn't take long for tension to build within our setup. My dates with girls were always excellentthey were okay with me having a boyfriend, we'd end up having dinner or drinks for a few hours, and I'd stay over at their places. We'd flirt online, but nothing was consistent enough for us to grow attached. Meanwhile, the boys Jonathan would match with almost always felt uncomfortable with me being in his life and never wanted chill dates with him. As the more emotional one between the both of us, Jonathan couldn't see himself getting into someone's pants without having a decent conversation with them first, and he didn't feel connected with any of the guys he wanted to see.

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Although I still slept with Jonathan regularly, he couldn't help but feel jealous, and I couldn't blame him. I was the only one enjoying our open arrangement after all, and his interest in boys seemed to wane by the day. Eventually, we reached a compromise and decided to try a foursome with another couplesomething Jonathan has always wanted to try. I already had my fun, and I was willing to try almost anything to help him feel better about our setup. Through a mutual friend, we ended up on a couple's date with a reporter and her video producer boyfriend, whom we were both instantly attracted to. They were an interesting couple who were pretty experienced with swinging before and understood the need to keep our arrangement confidential.

With more than a few beers knocked down, Jonathan and I checked into a motel with the couple in tow, hidden in the backseat. One thing lead to another and we found ourselves paired off: Jonathan with the other girl and me with the other guy. I turned to see him and expected to feel the familiar pangs of jealousy make their way into my chest but ended up surprised that I felt nothing. I tried my best to have fun with the other guy as well, and pretty quickly, I found out that we were sexually incompatible. He took too long going down on me and no matter what I tried to do, he couldn't get hardeven when his girlfriend tried to step in. I had to commend him for being a good sport, and he decided to film the three of us going at it instead. After she was done with Jonathan, the girl proceeded to turn her attention towards me. As we started kissing, I noticed something snap in Jonathan, and he quickly went, "Hey, don't you have your own? Move!"

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If small dick energy were a thing back then, I definitely would've called him out on it (even though it wasn't technically true), but like most girls caught in uncomfortable situations with other people present, I simply laughed it off. I don't know what came over me then, but I continued to have sex with her while our boyfriends watched, in a state of mind that I couldn't completely enjoy it but couldn't turn away either. I didn't know it then, but it reminded me of the emptiness after sleeping with girls and going back to my shitty job's regular programming the day after.

If small dick energy were a thing back then, I definitely would've called him out on it (even though it wasn't technically true), but like most girls caught in uncomfortable situations with other people present, I simply laughed it off.

I knew I was running away from something, and it started with ignoring the problems in my relationship that were slowly but surely making their way to the surface. Even after Jonathan's ridiculous behavior, I said I was open to the idea of us seeing boys and girls at the same time, granted that we asked each other's permission first. It took me a full day to confront him about his off comments while we were swinging and after denying that he meant anything off by it, he profusely apologized, swearing he would never disrespect me like that again.

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I knew I was running away from something, and it started with ignoring the problems in my relationship that were slowly but surely making their way to the surface.

No matter how hard we tried, absolutely nothing seemed to click by adjusting our relationship's new rules. He was okay with every single guy and girl I wanted to sleep with, but I couldn't get behind all of his choices in women. I even snapped at him for failing to ask permission from me before asking out a college student on Bumble. Ironically, I tried getting myself more and more involved with work. I was more and more miserable by the day and grew less attached to both Jonathan and the women I was also seeing.

The last straw came when Jonathan almost cheated on me.

I know what you're thinking: How can you cheat in an open setup, right? We defined cheating as actively dating someone your main partner didn't approve of. Because we were both logged onto our Instagram accounts, I noticed that he seemed to be emotionally unavailable when I was at work, but couldn't stop talking to a friend of his who lived far from us. Even though she would seem to end the conversation, he would still try to talk to her, sometimes grasping at straws in order to get a response. Staring at the messages made me feel defeated, and I knew my relationship was slipping away along with whatever commitment I still had to my job.

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No matter how hard we tried, absolutely nothing seemed to click by adjusting our relationship's new rules. 

I knew what I had to do. I confronted Jonathan and he admitted to having a small crush on the girl he was talking to but initially refused to acknowledge that he did anything wrong. After explaining to him that he chose to spend time talking to his crush instead of taking the time to help me feel better about all the stressors in my career and our relationship, I threatened to break up with him if he didn't get his shit together.

Jonathan admitted that he was in the wrong for most things, and the parameters of a completely open relationship confused him. That didn't excuse him in my eyes for jumping the gun more often than not. Even his friendship with the girl was causing me too much emotional distress, and he had to break that off, too.

Since then, we have tried to get better for each other every single day. I resigned from my toxic job and started to pursue writing and voicing projects. Jonathan and I have drastically limited our boundaries. I can still see girls with his permission, and he's been talking to one trans girl I have no problems with. We continue to put work and each other first, and I've made sure to be more conscious of letting him know when something he says or does makes me uncomfortable.

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In no way do I want to claim that open setups can ruin a relationship. When you and your partner approach it with as much love, care, and honesty as possible, it can deepen what you already have rather than stifle it. There is still a lot of pain attached to those initial months, and I'm still trying to dissociate them from the Jonathan he is todaysomeone who accepts his faults for what they really are and refuses to let his previous mistakes get in the way of deepening a relationship with someone he really loves.

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