Or why people seeking open relationships are on the rise
“We drank and had sex several times a day for four months. I began to wonder if this wasn’t a competition. Anyway, as far as I was concerned, there were two options – either I was going to satisfy this woman sexually, or I was going to die trying to satisfy her,” actor Will Smith wrote in his memoirs. His confession refers to his current wife, Jada Pinkett Smith, with whom they have an open relationship. The two married in 1997, although the future Mrs. Smith never believed in standard marriage. However, the charming Will manages to get her to make some compromises, which builds tension in their relationship as she painfully accepts the disregard for her principles. It gets to a point where scandals between the two are a daily occurrence.
“Our marriage wasn’t working and we couldn’t pretend anymore. We were both unhappy and something had to change,” admits the Hollywood star. They begin to analyze what a perfect relationship means to each of them and how to achieve it. So they come to the conclusion that they must give themselves the freedom to be intimate with other people as well, since monogamy does not make them happy. We realized that marriage should not be a prison, says Will Smith, but adds that he does not offer anyone their lifestyle. The unique relationship dynamic he and Jada have discovered for themselves, he says, won’t work for most couples. The reason is that it requires a pretty serious change in expectations from a relationship.
Love is usually selfish. When you love someone, you want to spend all your time with them. So it’s unlikely that he’ll simply encourage his partner to seek complementary happiness with another. If he does, such a thing will certainly hurt his ego and he will wonder if the third, fourth or fifth in their relationship will become essential and he himself redundant at some point.
People who practice open relationships claim that such hesitation does not exist for them because they have honestly understood that it stems from drive and not from emotional attraction between them. They often adhere to the “don’t ask and don’t tell” rule unless they are dating other people as a couple. In this way, they guarantee peace of mind that their sexual forays will not become a threat to their love. Oh, and it turns out that the number of people looking for casual sex is growing, and it’s no longer a problem to quickly find someone to practice it with.
Dedecker Winston, who has been podcasting in the US about non-monogamous relationships for 8 years, says she has never seen so much interest in them. Moreover, people are increasingly speaking freely about the matter. According to her, there are several factors for this change. Young people are just questioning the way they were brought up, Winston told the BBC. In most cases, they believe that long-term marital monogamy is the ultimate goal of intimate relationships, but they want to experiment with something different, as societal and cultural attitudes have led to a wider acceptance of non-traditional relationship styles. The pandemic has further fueled this curiosity, as it has shown how damaging it is to find yourself locked up with someone who doesn’t satisfy you.
There are many ways to be non-monogamous, says New York-based relationship counselor Sarah Levinson. For example, you may live with multiple partners and share financial costs, or support just one once a year by providing them with a free meeting in the form of a work conference or other business trip. Polyamory is another type of open partnership. With it, people are intimate with more than one person at the same time, and it is not just about sex, but also about love and life support. They don’t see this as cheating, but as a conscious choice that it’s not good to be committed to just one partner. This life concept can be realized by maintaining parallel relationships of the “friends with advantage” type, having sex with other couples or allowing a third person into theirs. In her practice, Levinson has encountered quite a wide variety of non-monogamy, from sharing economic resources to ethnicity, in which it is accepted that several people participate in one relationship.
According to experts, a big factor in increasing these relationships is online dating platforms. Not only do they offer a feature to search for people interested in open relationships, but they also contain a wealth of information on non-monogamy. A study by the app Hinge, for example, found that one in five of its users would consider trying an open relationship, while one in ten had already become part of one.
When you keep choosing monogamy and it doesn’t work, it’s natural to start wondering if there’s another way, Sarah Levinson told the BBC. According to her, this may stem from a general tendency towards open-mindedness and a growing tendency to challenge societal constructs when we are overwhelmed with too many problems and challenges.
Although more people are interested in and directed towards non-monogamous arrangements, the mass perception of them remains negative, polls show. Studies in the US and Canada have found that only about 4% admit to practicing them. Levinson believes this may in part stem from the entrenched perception that open relationships are perceived as unhealthy. This, she says, is due both to religious beliefs and to her fellow therapists’ practice of viewing the couple’s viability as a bubble. So she doesn’t believe monogamy is likely to lose its place as a mainstream model any time soon, even though young people continue to move away from the idea that one partner can satisfy all their needs. Predictions are that they will become more open about how they identify and less judgmental of others. This will lead to a greater variety of relationship patterns. Marriages will continue to decline and such unusual patterns as platonic friends who decide to live together and become parents will increase. People are branching out more and more into creating the relationships that have the most meaning in their lives, says relationship counselor Sarah Levinson.
What is ethical non-monogamy?
Ethical non-monogamy is a relatively new concept among people seeking open relationships. It is a kind of unwritten contract between partners that they cannot continue to live only within their relationship.
The reasons for such a decision can be different. For example, they want to explore their sexuality, which they fail to do with the person they love. They feel the need to be in love with more than one person at a time. Experts warn that this is not some fad, but an inner need to be in a different type of romantic relationship. Such people perceive monogamy as a killer of their true self. Still others associate it with jealous or possessive feelings that deprive them of the opportunity to receive more love.
Ethical non-monogamy is also a way to achieve diversity in your sex life without negative consequences for love relationships. If the partners have come to the conclusion that one of them is not physically, mentally or emotionally able to satisfy such a need of the other, the honest position is to give him the freedom to try to do it with someone more suitable.
Regardless of the reason, all open relationships work if there are established rules and they are followed. By the time lying and concealment are involved, a step has already been taken toward traditional infidelity. For non-monogamous relationships to be successful, they also need to be worked on just like monogamous ones. It is important that partners are aware of their feelings and sexual desires. To be able to have a frank conversation about the matter and feel that it is worth continuing together.