Guest blog: Open relationships are more boring than you think

Image by the fabulous Stuart F Taylor

I’m really excited to introduce you to this week’s fantastic guest blogger. Molly Quell is a writer who is in an open relationship, and when telling people her relationship status she’s often confronted with some fairly inaccurate assumptions. She’s here to debunk some, and explain what her love life really looks like…

Open relationships are more boring than you might think

I recently went to dinner with a few friends of mine. All were women. All were married. And all had recently found out I was in an open relationship. After skirting the issue during the first course, and the first bottle of wine, of them looked me in the eye and asked “So, when was the last time you were in an orgy?”

“It’s been a few years,” I answered honestly.

My dining companions were disappointed. As dinner went on, I spent a lot of time explaining to them that being non-monogamous wasn’t a non-stop sex party. The struggles of dating don’t end simply because you have your partners’ blessing.

I pointed out how difficult it was for the group of us to find an evening just to have dinner. Now, imagine, not just having to worry about work schedules and babysitters, but also sexual compatibility. If anyone in the room has recently broken up. Or has ever had a bad break up. If anyone is related. Does anyone work together? Honestly, orgies are damn near impossible to facilitate.

Like most people in non-monogamous relationships, I have a primary partner. We own a house together, have a dog together and go to our respective work Christmas parties together. We just also sometimes date other people.

And by sometimes I mean, every couple of weeks, if we’re lucky.

It’s not for lack of trying. Everyone knows that dating is hard. Try dating when your pool of potential partners is limited to those interested in someone who is already in a relationship. Dating apps are challenging. I’m not looking for the sort of love most people who use them are. And you’re not just dating me, you’re dating my whole life. You have to feel comfortable with my partner. With running into work colleagues when we’re at the bar, having drinks, and me downplaying the relationship because I’m not “out” at work. You have to tell your friends “Yeah, I’m dating this person, and she has a boyfriend.”

At the recent poly-meetup I attended, there was less discussion of whether or not non-monogamy is the relationship model of the future and more about how people find the time to see their partners. Scheduling is such an issue, there’s even an app for that. The joke is that being able to use a shared Google calendar is the most important personality trait for the non-monogamous.

One of the women at the meetup was thrilled to have found a boyfriend (she’s already married) in her kids’ play group. “They can hang out together while we have coffee!” she was telling everyone excitedly. Note that she’s excited about having an hour or two for a mid-week coffee with her children present. That’s not leaving a lot of opportunity for making out, let alone an orgy.

My life is less complicated because my partner and I don’t have children. But we do both have jobs. We have hobbies. We have friends and family and a nearly 100-year old house that we’re renovating. We have an idiotic but lovely energetic dog who constantly needs to be exercised. Don’t get me wrong, I have a great life which I love, but I don’t have an infinite supply of time or energy.

Don’t think it’s just that I am a boring person. Though there isn’t much academic research on the subject, one study found that around 75% of non-monogamous people describe themselves as primarily dating one person with other secondary relationships. There certainly are non-monogamous folks who are living in poly communes, who raise children with multiple partners or who take a plus two or three or more to a wedding.

My friends who are in less traditional living arrangements might have more access to one another but those arrangements come with their own complications. They face a society and culture which might be unaccepting of their relationships. There’s more opportunity to argue about whose turn it is to do the dishes or what the right way is to load the dishwasher. There’s many difficult legal and financial issues.

Survey data shows that around 17% of American adults have engaged in consensual non-monogamy. A YouGov survey from 2014 found that nearly 40% of British adults would describe their ideal relationship as non-monogamous, to varying degrees. (Participants were asked to rank their relationship preference from 0 or total monogamous to 6 or totally non-monogamous and 39% rated their preference as 1-6.)

As these relationships become more accepted, some of the problems associated with non-monogamy disappear. I’m out to most of my friends, so there’s not much gossip if they see me out with someone other than my boyfriend. I live in a place that’s fairly progressive, so I don’t worry about too much backlash. But acceptance doesn’t change the fundamental limitations of time, energy and access. (And, for others, the financial limitations of traveling to see partners, the cost of dates, etc.)

Perhaps we’ll make it to an orgy this year. But more likely, I’ll spend just as many evenings watching Netflix as you do. Just not always with the same person.

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