Who Cares About Your Open Relationship?


Who Cares About Your Open Relationship?(Hint: The answer is everyone…at least on the internet.)

A while back, the actress Mo’Nique remarked in an interview with Barbara Walters that her husband could “step out” on her and it wouldn’t necessarily end their marriage. Judging from the online reaction, you would have thought she said “use infants for satanic sacrifice” instead of “step out.” It seemed everyone had an opinion on the matter, and those opinions were mostly negative. While I realize she is a celebrity and that many people feel entitled to involve themselves in the personal lives of the famous, I was still rather taken aback by the sheer number of people who care about what goes on in a stranger’s bedroom. One blogger writes:

“ANYONE who thinks an open relationship is in fact a relationship needs to bungie jump off a bridge, no bungie!”

Merely stating that infidelity wouldn’t necessarily end a relationship does not indicate, even by the loosest standards, that the relationship is an open relationship. Setting that aside, why does anyone care if someone is participating in a “non-standard” relationship? I can overlook the religious. They feel justified in involving themselves in all sorts of private matters, from the bedroom to the womb.

“There is NO SUCH THING as an open marriage. If you are a GOD FEARING CHRISTIAN, it is made clear that marriage is exclusive. Marriage is for a man and a women to be together giving themselves only to each other. Marriage is SOLE commitment to a partner, that is why it should not be taken lightly.” (Comment on an article about Mo’Nique’s interview)

I’m much more surprised (and concerned) by the seemingly liberal, progressive, and otherwise tolerant individuals who are somehow unable to accept other people’s choice to participate in a non-traditional relationship. These people seem to be broken down into several groups.

The “Well, I can’t do it so clearly no one else can” group

“Everyone who makes love to another person develops attachment­. And everyone who watches that lover “go off” with someone else experience­s pain.” (Comment on an article about open relationships)

“It's just human nature to feel hurt and jealousy when someone you love with all of your heart is with someone else.” (Comment on an article about open relationships)

“I can honestly say that I cannot see how a person can have a sexual relationship with more than one person and still be perfectly committed to only one person. It is inevitable that you are eventually going to have sex with someone you like more than your spouse. And then what happens?” (Comment on a Dan Savage column about open relationships)

You know what I can't do? The firefly pose. I've been trying for like three years to master this pose, and I just fail miserably. Shockingly though, I watch my yoga instructor easily maintain the pose. While teaching a damn class. Under this mentality, gymnastics, mathematics, engineering, and souffles would not exist (in my world anyway). People can watch professional athletes compete, knowing they don’t have the same physical capability of those athletes, and yet can’t comprehend a relationship with boundaries outside of their own.

The “Why you would even be in a relationship, let alone get married, if you’re going to be open?” group

“So—what is the point of being in a relationsh­ip, then? I'm not a conservative­ve–I just don't understand the point of being married or in a relationsh­ip if you're having sex with other people, too. Isn't the whole point of being married or in a relationsh­ip is that you're exclusively­y with one other? Isn't that what defines it in the first place (Webster's­, the Oxford English Dictionary­)?” (Comment on a Dan Savage column about open relationships) [sic]

“Then why get Married at all????? I don't get this. If Mo says her husband can cheat why the would you make him your husband?” (Comment on an article about Mo’Nique’s interview) [sic]

Honestly, these people sadden me. Do their relationships simply boil down to the mere agreement to not fuck anyone else? What about all the other important aspects of relationships, like emotional support, honest feedback, someone else to walk the dog when it’s raining? A healthy relationship needs to be founded on much more than keeping it in your pants.

The “Open relationships are cheating, no matter what” group

“Open relationships are a fancy way of saying “I am allowed to cheat without worrying that I'll go without sex because I can always fall back on you when no one else is around” People who love each other don't cheat.” (Response on a Yahoo Questions thread about open relationships)

“A euphemism describing a relationship in which one or more participates are cheating.” (One definition of “open relationship” on Urban Dictionary)

I find these people exceptionally confusing. Even in “vanilla” relationships, cheating is defined in a variety of ways. Some consider merely fantasizing to be cheating, while others are perfectly fine with their partner going to a strip club. I know people who wouldn’t consider close, emotional relationships cheating, and yet others who think it’s unacceptable for their (straight) boyfriend to have female friends. The word “cheating” refers to breaking the rules; you can cheat on tests and diets and board games. If sleeping with someone else isn’t against the rules, it can’t, by definition, be cheating.

The “Anyone in an open relationship is completely screwed up in the head” group

For me, this is the most hateful group of all.


“Monique sounds so fuckin stupid! Does he have some sort of mind control over her or something?”  (Comment on a post about MoNique’s “open relationship”)

“That's probably the only way she can stay married by tolerating her cheating husband. She makes it sound like she's in control, but it's really sad that she has to put up with a thing like just so that she has a man in her life.” (Comment on an article about Mo’Nique’s “open relationship”)

Some people argue that it’s low self-esteem; others contend that it must be coercion from partner A or perhaps desperation from partner B. I’m sure some people in SOME open relationships have low self-esteem or were coerced into it, but the same is true for some people in any type of relationship. Societal opposition to open relationships is so strong (refer to the previous five paragraphs) that in order to fight all the stereotypes, you have to be pretty self confident to even explore the idea.

I will never understand why anyone feels the need to comment on how I define my relationship, any more than they would comment on which side of the bed I sleep on (for the record, open and on the right). I don’t want to have your heterosexual, missionary-position, lights-off sex with only the person you married forever relationship.*

*Kidding, I’m sure you guys are all having super great sex.


Neamhspleachas is a thirty-something American, currently living in the Netherlands. She works as a journalist and writer. If she’s not working, you can probably find her drinking a craft beer somewhere. Possibly somewhere far away from home. You can find her putting her multiple degrees to good use by blogging about relationships, economics, politics, and boobs that are and are not hers at neamhspleachas.com.


  1. People who say these things make me want to rant uncontrollably. These sentiments are what we have to fight against every day to ensure we can live our lives the way we want to. It would be nice if we weren’t judged by everyone, wouldn’t it?

  2. M. Sugar Shack Jr. on

    The close mindedness is in the lifestyle too. I was chatting with someone who said, “If your wife doesn’t eat pussy, you’re not really swingers.” One of the great things about this lifestyle is that you get to define your own relationship based on your own values, beliefs, and fantasies. Tolerance is not acceptance. It doesn’t have to be. It is an understanding that others believe differently than you do and are pursuing happiness.

    • there’s closed mindedness in EVERY lifestyle, and it often makes me sad how
      supposedly sex positive folks will lob grenades at each other because “we do
      sex positive” differently than “you do sex positive.” as an openly bi member
      of the swinger community i see that all the time.

      My dear friend Kendra just wrote a fuming article about part of the St.
      Louis BDSM community getting a swing community event shut down. It’s
      horrible when abused people feel the need to abuse others…

  3. I come across comments like all those above and feel sad and frustrated because nothing I will say will convince those people I am not sick, deranged, being taken advantage of etc. I can get not wanting to do it yourself but I am not affecting you so why the vitriol?

  4. I tested the “openness” of our relationship and it blew our relationship to pieces. Communication broke down, every word became a slight or insult and just being around each other was a strain. After two years, we have progressed to the point where we are now discussing the “openness” again. It works if you want it to, if you immune yourself of others self inflated opinion, if you can remain happy in your relationship (both sides are happy) and you don’t shy away from the person you see in the mirror.

    It takes a lot of self confidence to proclaim your open relationship knowing the backlash that will accompany it. Not everyone that disapproves is narrow or small minded. They just have an opinion and it happens to not jive with yours. Opinions are like a**holes, everybody has one. I’d like to add to that: “but not every body is one”

    I agree with B Welch on his “Swinger” blog about rules and communication. You cannot escape who you are. All the deprogramming and reprogramming and etc, etc, etc ad nausem cannot change that. I count myself lucky to have a wife, spouse, partner, friend, confidant et al that understands, listens to me with out judgement, and supports my discovery and acceptance of who I truly am. I wouldn’t survive any other relationship without this frank and revealing communication between two people who deeply love each other and want the other to be happy and satisfied.

    I don’t feel so alone and struggling any more thanks to the input of thoughtful people on these blogs.

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