My girlfriend just told me that she wants an open relationship. I knew she had open relationships in the past, but she didn’t express any interest in that with me until now. I’m really confused. I don’t come from a world where people have multiple partners. And I don’t even know what it means to have an open relationship! Does it mean that she sleeps with other people or that she DATES and has RELATIONSHIPS with other people?! Have you ever heard of a relationship like this working?
Having an open relationship can look any way you want it to look. It can be exclusively about sex or it can include having multiple relationships. It can be something that the two of you agree to do as a couple (3 ways, etc.), or it can mean that you date other people as individuals. It can limit hookups to once a month, once per person, or only with mutual consent (that would mean Your consent, girlfriend). Open relationships are the wild west of the dating world because it’s essence invites any interpretations thereof and thwarts against aligning with any one framework.
The only rule of the game is that you need rules, and you’re the only one who can write them. The negotiating and drafting of these rules can foster a new level of connection between the two of you, as counter-intuitive as that may sound. The reason is because it necessitates that you discuss your wants, your desires and your fears, in a way that monogamous couples almost never do.
You are terrified of what this may mean to your relationship, mostly because it’s a foreign concept to you. Let me try and reframe it so that it sounds a little less freaky: The only aspect of this model that is truly innovative is the element of honesty between partners. Couples have been following a less formal model of open relationships since the beginning of the institution of marriage ~ it’s called Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, and it involves one partner cheating and the other hiding their head in the sand.
Humans are funny. We’ll blindly follow an institution that has a greater likelihood of failure than success, simply because we know what to expect. And when faced with an alternative, less studied framework, we run in fear. What’s the expression? Better the devil you know than the devil you don’t.
You won’t know if an open relationship will work for you until you at least explore it verbally with your girlfriend. And it sounds to me like you really don’t have much of a choice if you want to stay with her, because one way or another, she will get the open relationship she wants. Your choice is whether it will be the old school one or the newer, freakier model.