Auntie SparkNotes: An Open-and-Shut Relationship
Surprise, surprise, my problem's about a boy. My boyfriend and I have been dating for over a year and things are great he's incredibly sweet and thoughtful and loving and it couldn't be better. Except s few months ago, we were joking around and I floated the idea of an open relationship, where we could be physically intimate with other people as long as it didn't get to the point of emotional intimacy, and we were fully honest with each other about these dalliances when it happened. He thought I was joking and played along, but when I brought it up again later he freaked at the idea being serious, so I quickly dropped it.
I mean, I love him, and I don't need or want anyone else right now, so I'm happy with this for now. But I'll be going away for college in a few months. And, um, I would like to be able to indulge myself, as it were, while I'm away -- it's college, right? And I'm not a particularly emotional person; I love the BF but I can be with other people without any strings attached. And he's vehemently opposed to the idea. I DO NOT want to force him into it, or manipulate him, or anything like that, and I'm afraid if I bring it up again he may feel like that's what's happening. Should I accept that since there is this big, ugly difference of opinion between us, I don't actually love him all that much to throw the idea of being open away, and so break up with him? I've been coming to realise that's the decent human thing to do, but I don't want to. (He brings me sandwiches when I'm sad.) Help!
First things first, Sparkler: do not let the lure of sandwiches distract you from your very, very important responsibility to Do The Right Thing by this relationship. Because so far, you’re doing such a good job of staying on the right side of the Line of Human Decency. It’s perfectly okay to want an open relationship (and it’s especially understandable when you’re about to embark on a long period of separation with no outlet for your, er, needs.) It’s okay to bring up the idea with your S.O. and discuss the possibility. And, of course, it’s okay (and correct!) to drop the subject when it turns out that your idea of an ideal arrangement is your boyfriend’s idea of a nightmare.
Which is why, as you work through the impasse at which you’ve found yourself, I hope you’ll keep yourself right where you are—in Decent Human Beingville—and not stray over into Manipulative Whineytown, The Land of Sulking Punishment, or, worst of all, The Dark Nation of Selfish Horny Liars.
Because here’s the deal: your relationship can only be as open as the most closed person in it. And as long as your boyfriend’s Open Relationship Door is pretty much welded shut, you have two options:
1) Decide that your complete sexual satisfaction is a reasonable price to pay for being with a sandwich-bringing sweetheart, and stay.
2) Decide that it’s not, and leave. (But if you do, please make it a conversation—because knowing that you view an open relationship as a deal-breaking necessity might prompt your boyfriend to reconsider whether he’s definitely opposed to one. And while you don’t want to force or manipulate him into something he’s uncomfortable with, there’s nothing wrong with it if he changes his mind under his own steam.)
Alas, those aren't just two options; they're your only ones. It’s got to be one or the other. So if, as you’ve suggested, you can’t resolve yourself to staying with your boyfriend if the requirement is sexless long-distance-hood, then yes: the right thing is to break up, and to do it cleanly, honestly, and before you succumb to the urge to cheat.
The good news: This decision is utterly, completely, one-hundred-percentedly yours to make. And if you feel that you can’t be happy in a strictly monogamous relationship with this guy, you do nobody any favors by gritting your teeth and sticking it out for the sake of the status quo. Because while there will always be a contingent of people who insist that love means monogamy, that’s just not true for everyone. Every relationship is different, and there are as many successful recipes for one as there are happy couples in the world; love isn’t one-size-fits-all. And if you’re a person for whom happiness means the occasional no-strings-attached fling as an accessory to your loving, committed relationship, then nothing good will come of you trying to squeeze into a lifestyle that’ll always pinch in the wrong places.
Have you ever been in an open relationship? Share in the comments! And to get advice from Auntie, email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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