A Good OPEN RELATIONSHIPS Is…

Rules and boundaries in an open relationship may show loyalty and commitment, but what does it mean if they're broken?
grayscale photo of an African-American Woman Standing in the Middle of Two African-American Men

Did you hear the news? Nearly half of gay men have had an open or non-monogamous relationship, and is this really any surprise? Open relationships within the gay community are more visibly common than ever.

Analysts from a survey conducted by FS Magazine produced by The Gay Men’s Health Charity in the UK report:

What these stats are showing is gay men, who have an experience of open relationships, are more open and favorable to them. Gay men who have no experience of them tend to be more critical and vocal of open relationships, which is exactly what gay men in open relationships told us.

I’ve never been in an open relationship myself but know a lot of people who have been, and I find in certain situations that open relationships are more complicated than monogamous ones. Where as a monogamous relationship calls for not having sex with others, the “rules” and “boundaries” that come with open relationships just add different complexities for partners to demonstrate commitment and loyalty to their partner.

Surprisingly, when asked, gay men in monogamous relationships believe ‘open relationships’ are not real relationships. This may come across as a closed-minded belief and one I firmly held until my eight-year monogamous relationship ended.

Typically, those who have never tried an open relationship hold a negative opinion about them. “Gay men have always engaged more often in consensual non-monogamous relationships, and society has consistently stigmatized their decision to do so,” says Michael Bronski, a professor in the department of women, gender and sexuality at Harvard University.

Despite Bronski’s statement, gay relationships end up in open relationships because a percentage of gay men can’t or don’t want to be monogamous. But for some, open relationships allow them sexual freedom without being confined to a monogamous relationship.

Open relationships can work and those who are in them appear to be happy. However, when you look deeper on the inside, some of these relationships might not be as fulfilling as you might think. For an open relationship to work there has to be open communication, honesty, trust and agreed upon boundaries. These boundaries are sometimes brought into question. I’ve hooked up with plenty of guys whom I later found out were in open relationships. Each time I learned of the open nature of their relationship, it became more evident to me that open relationships are not that ‘open.’ I have seen plenty of guys go into panic mode because they didn’t know what they were going to tell their partners. My classic comeback would be, “if you’re in an open relationship, why do you need an alibi?”

Their responses were all similar and circle back to the boundaries or rules set in the relationship. In each case they were all breaking the rules of when, how, and where they could explore their sexuality.

Once two men have agreed to have an open relationship, they must further decide how much information about outside activities are to be shared. Will it be “don’t ask, don’t tell,” or “tell me everything”? “Let’s face it,” says Didi Zahariades, a psychotherapist in private practice in Portland, OR “Some guys really like to share, others not so much.”

Brenda Schaeffer, a psychotherapist in the Minneapolis area and the best-selling author of Is It Love or Is It Addiction? believes that “if one partner is not told what’s going on, they often begin to obsess about what might be happening. However, the ‘tell me everything’ option can also bring out any insecurities a person may have and/or cause extreme jealousy or obsessing about what the partner may be doing with someone else.” (The Gay Male Couple’s Guide to Nonmonogamy)

Also in February, there was a flurry of posts between Huffington Post editors and contributors on this subject. But now with same-sex marriage legal in all 50 states, where are we going to end up? There is a lot of commentary out there about gays being monogomish, but now what’s going to happen with respect to marriage?

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