The premise of Friday Morning Tho(ugh)tsis simple: a space for queers to think critically about our identities, sexualities, and sexual experiences together as a community. Every Friday I will leave a post that ends with an open ended question. Throughout the week you should feel comfortable emailing your thoughts on the question I pose – no limits, no restrictions except this: you have to end your thoughts with a question. Each Friday I will pick a thought, and I will post it alongside my answer to your question. It’s kind of like if Dear Abby meets Dr. Ruth meets your mom’s knitting Midwestern knitting circle. And at base, the hope is this: the creation of a space where we can engage with each other about aspects of our experience that demand critical thought. I don’t have the answers, but writing together, perhaps we can try out some answers until we find the ones that fit.
For many queers, there is real joy in having the freedom to try out and try on different types of relationships. Because our sexual identities fall outside of the norms of society – norms that say “hetero = normal and queer = abnormal” – this means we are also given more normative freedom in defining elements of our queer experience. Last week a reader brought up an interesting point in his response: what do we do about open relationships?
“Every gay male or lgbtqa identifying person has their ideas or opinions on the subject of openness. And I'm not saying I'm opposed to it. But how early is too early to be in an open relationship? Because obviously, it depends on both party’s comfortability with it. But if opening the relationship isn't what both parties want, is that the end? Or with rules and regulations so to speak, could things work out?”
I think for many queer people monogamy can feel deeply restricting and performative – an act we do to try and meet certain heterosexual (not to mention capitalist) ideals that we were brought up with. But inevitably, many queer people often feel a disconnect between these ideals and their desires because queer desire doesn’t always map on to the monogamy with which we are raised.
But how does someone navigate an open relationship? In many open relationships, there are boundaries or rules established in conjunction with your partner. But what should these rules look like? These rules can range from “we only play together” to “we only use condoms” to “we talk to each other about each sexual experience.” But, in each case, the rules are going to be specific to the individuals involved in the open relationship and to their needs and desires. The key, then, to an open relationship seems to be a combination of trust and communication about what you truly desire.
And, in all honesty, this is what can potentially make an open relationship such a beautiful thing: being in a situation in which you must actively discuss your own sexual needs, desires, and issues.
Taken from my own experience, though, open relationships can still be incredibly challenging and emotionally draining experiences, and it’s important to take note of this. Establishing rules and boundaries is essential because, inevitably, there are going to be certain things that will cause you or your partner deep pain if it were to happen.
For example, would you be comfortable with your partner sleeping with an ex-boyfriend? For me, this would be a deal breaker – for some others, perhaps it wouldn’t be. But either way, the communication of this to your partner is essential.
You have to remember, then, that open relationships, in most cases, are not about freely doing whatever you want. The “relationship” nature of open relationships means that you still have a responsibility of care for the person you are in a relationship with; cheating is still possible in open relationships, and it can result in real harm done.
Important in discussing rules and boundaries, as well, is to remember that physicality and sex are not the only elements of relationship building. How comfortable are you with your partner spending non-sexual one-on-one time building emotional connections with other people? This just adds to the list of things that you and your partner should discuss when considering an open relationship.
In the end, it’s hard – as it should be – to put universal, normative rules on open relationships. Open relationships can be truly special experiences because rather than trying to match a universal “way of doing things” they allow for two people to hash out what they actually want and desire from each other in a freeform way. But open relationships can also be incredibly emotionally dangerous because they require a level of trust and respect from both parties that will allow for truly open and honest communication. Let me repeat myself: open relationships require trust, communication, and respect, and if any of these are missing then an open relationship could meander down a road to real personal hurt or harm to you or your partner.
But what do you think? Do you have experiences in open relationships? What worked for you? And what has been your biggest challenge? Or perhaps you have an issue with the very concept of the open relationship. At base, how open should we be in our relationships?