In Defense of Open Relationships

Polyamory. Ethical non-monogamy. As more people embrace these labels, the open relationship is enjoying a well-deserved boost in legitimacy. It’s not just for commitment-phobes or swingers, people. Some version of an open relationship might be right for you.

Like all things in life, many people don’t fit the mold for a conventional relationship. I don’t fit most molds, still it took me years to accept my preference for open relationships and even longer to insist upon them. I thought open relationships were inconsistent with serious, committed love. Of course this wasn’t my idea, I’d subconsciously absorbed the societal norm that equated love with monogamy.

Anything other than strict monogamy was reduced to a friends-with-benefits arrangement that could, at best, pretend to be love. Thinking this is what stopped me from even talking about open relationships. Raising the topic risked sending the wrong signal: that I wasn’t fully committed or that I didn’t actually love my partner.

Still, I couldn’t shake the feeling that something about monogamy felt absolutely wrong for me. The more I thought about traditional marriage, for example, the less I felt drawn to it. The wedding I love, don’t get me wrong. I’m all for standing in front of the world and declaring your love and commitment. It’s a sacred and beautiful tradition. But the marriage part – the contract that creates penalties for ending the relationship – on closer examination appeared strange, unnecessary and even counterproductive.

Marriage contracts add penalties for splitting up so that people stick it out even when one of them would rather not. Without getting into the history of the institution of marriage and how it was designed to treat women as property, I’ll simply say: I can understand that some, or most, may prefer to have these constraints on their ideal relationship. Nonetheless, I suspect there are many that simply haven’t questioned it, and if they did, they would reject parts of it too. Here’s why I reject traditional marriage and its emphasis on strict monogamy too.

To put it simply: I don’t want to be with someone who would prefer to leave me, all else equal, if it weren’t for the fact that we are married and we signed a contract with certain penalties for leaving me. I don’t want marriage to be the reason we are together. I want love to be that reason.

Instead of “Will you marry me?” I say to my partner, “You are free to leave whenever you want, and as long as I am the best person for you, I will know it by your choice to be with me: a choice you make every day, in every moment we are together.” For me, this is true love – it comes from a place of freedom.

This concept of true love led me to question the constraints of monogamy. Why should my partner be “exclusive” to me if she doesn’t want to be? If she has the freedom to be with others when she wants, and still chooses to be with me too, it only confirms that our love is real. Other than societal pressure, jealousy and fear of losing her, I could think of no good reason to ask my partner to deny any authentic desire she has to be with others.

Of course freeing each other in this way increases the risk that we will fall in love with someone else. But, I ask, what is so wrong with that? Perhaps we are capable of loving more than one person at once. And even the worst case scenario for me, that she would fall so deeply in love with another that she’d have no time left for me, is still a good scenario for her. Sad as it may be for me, I want that for her because I love her.

Now that I’ve fully stepped into an open relationship, I can say from experience that I’ve never felt more secure. I expected the opposite, but now it makes complete sense. It’s a powerful thing to say to your partner, “I want you to have everything in life that is good for you, even if it hurts me, or makes me jealous, or you find someone better.” It takes courage and strength to offer that to another. I never take it for granted, and it binds us together even more strongly.

A relationship structure should support the expression of true love and nothing less. I’ve found that the freedom of an open relationship, contrary to popular belief, does that for me. Don’t constrain yourself to the confines of convention, unless it naturally aligns with your concept of love. Question your concept of love, too, because it may be inherited from society in a way that doesn’t fully work for you.

I would never claim open relationships are for everyone, or that my concept of true love is the only one. I share it only as an alternative you may have never considered, so that you may consider even more alternatives. Society by its nature allows too few alternatives, and we need to always push back against it. If the mold doesn’t fit, break free and create your own. Accept nothing less than a relationship structure that frees you and empowers you to love as deeply and fully as possible.


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