I’m currently one year and six months deep into a heterosexual relationship with my boyfriend. I’ve long regretted not asking for an open relationship from the beginning. I’m bisexual and I’ve always been in monogamous relationships. For the past two to three years, I’ve been leaning towards wanting to seek out open relationships.
Before my boyfriend and I became official, I so badly wanted to ask if we could keep our relationship open but stay committed to keeping each other as primary partner. I chickened out and then it was too late; before I knew it, he asked if I wanted to be his girlfriend and I said yes.
Fast forward to now and my ex has come into contact with me once again. We both have learned much more about ourselves while we were apart. My ex was once “she” and is now “they.” I’m so happy they found themselves finally and I want to be a small part of their life. I’ve told them that I am in a monogamous relationship but the fire between has and always will be there. They were the love of my life, but… I love my boyfriend now.
I’ve realized that I want my cake and want to eat it, too. Asking my boyfriend a year and more later that I want an open relationship so that I can seek out my ex sounds scary. How do I go about this???
— Openly Chickened Out
Dear Open Chick,
Typically, I recommend that clients hash out the parameters of their open relationships with their primary partners before they have anyone else “waiting in the wings.” It can be challenging to move at a pace that works for both primary partners when one of you is chomping at the bit of an exciting, new relationship. Also, it can get sticky when the person “waiting in the wings” is privy to this open relationship potential and therefore might have their own feelings about how quickly things should move along.
These are all great best practices in ideal circumstances, of course, that are not always reality. Your reality right now is that you’ve got this ex that you’re feeling a burnin’ lil fire for and at this point it’s not really possible to walk that back before you talk to your ex about an open relationship.
It seems that your prediction is that your boyfriend won’t welcome this idea with open (harty har har) arms. If this is the case, it’s important for you to think about whether or not you feel willing to either not act on your feelings for your ex in order to stay monogamously with your boyfriend or if you’re willing to end the relationship with your boyfriend to pursue this reignited connection with your ex. This might soon be an either/or option that you’re presented with.
As for how you make this proposal to your boyfriend, I suggest being clear in what you desire and that you take as much responsibility for your choices as you can. For example, rather than “I wanted an open relationship from the start but then before I knew it, oops!, we were monogamous!” (Message sent: “This happened TO me”), opt for “I wanted an open relationship from the start, but I was unable to find the bravery or confidence to tell you that. I’m sorry if my not telling you sooner causes hurt or confusion. I want to start being more clear about my wants, now” (Message sent: “I’m equipped to navigate our relationship — open or closed — with accountability and honesty”).
But first! Before you and your boyfriend both do the labor of hashing this out, ask yourself: Do you actually want to keep dating your boyfriend? Or are you trying to avoid the conflict of ending things with him (much like it sounds like you did at the start of your relationship by never broaching the topic of non-monogamy)?
If it’s the latter, I recommend you end things with him rather than painfully stretching out a finish line that you’ve already got in your sights. Being clear and brave now will increase your chances of preserving the love you and your boyfriend have for each other rather than hurting feelings with best intentions.
Yana Tallon-Hicks is a relationship therapist, sex educator, and writer living in the Pioneer Valley. You can find her work and her professional contact information on her website, yanatallonhicks.com.