For the most part, my metaphorical book on relationship and sex advice was filled with the pages of Cosmo I managed to tuck into the fronts of my pants and sneak out of my mother’s salon. All while keeping an eye out to the field, in case someone was lurking by to catch me red handed. I would hide them in the leaves of my textbook, and wait until my 6th grade comrade hopped onto the bus and took her place beside me so we could huddle over the bold red “Why You Should Be A Jealous Bitch and 6 Other Relationship Secrets” or “A Wild New Use For Your Loofah” - only with the keenest interest to give ourselves a real education.
Over the years of rummaging through hordes of sex columns, unsolicited sex advice from those who profess to have sex 25 times a week, and my own fair-share of missteps disguised as “adult experiences”, I came to question the premise behind all those pages. They spoke of one woman being with one man, one man at a time. The mission? To find the “One”. The goal? To keep the “One”. But, what if there were many Ones? What about ‘the Ones’ who wanted to know about the possibility of other ‘Ones’, and all the other ‘Ones’ trapped in stifling relationships that didn’t allow them to explore the full array of their desires? What if each ‘One’ could have their time of day, and their time away, and every ‘One’ could really just be happy? Was this even possible?
Turns out, it just might be. While exploring the vast depth that is ‘polygamous relationships’ of all kinds, the bubble that was labelled ‘Open Relationships’ swallowed me whole. It was a mixture of wonder, curiosity, a bit of apprehension - what did being in an open relationship really mean, anyway? While the definition of any relationship is in the eyes of the beholder, umpteen conversations later I have come to an understanding that encapsulates the essence, if not the entirety of, the meaning of an open relationship. Namely, a relationship in which two partners, who love and express a desire to be with each other, consensually have other lovers. For the most part, what makes this slightly different from ‘polyamorous relationships’ is that one doesn’t develop deeply emotional, committed relationships with all lovers.
If it helps you understand this any better, it’s the kind of relationship i’d refer to as “monogamish.” You’re openly with a person whom you love, sans the guilt and repression of attraction one may feel for other people. Easy as it is to spew rhetoric on the subject though, all relationships tend to take on the cultural context of the world (and society) that surrounds them most immediately–open or not. What, then, is it like to be in an open relationship in India? For a country in which dating culture is itself a new concept, arranged marriages are the norm, and same sex relationships are still illegal, it’s hard to imagine it being easy to navigate a space considered so ‘out of the ordinary’ even in more progressive parts of the world. While they most certainly do exist, there’s no real literature on the topic yet. So in order to understand it better, we spoke with five Indians who have each been in their own version of open relationships, and have shared their stories with us below.
“My partner and I live on two different continents right now - she moved away a few months into our relationship, it’s been a year of being apart, and it’ll be probably another year before we can truly be in the same place again. For both of us, the idea of conventional long distance was so taxing and hurtful, that an open relationship became the only version that worked. I genuinely want her to be sleeping with other people, and having fun whilst she’s away from me, and she wants the same for me. I’m in an open relationship because this is the person I want to spend my entire life with- that doesn’t necessarily mean marriage, it just means that my life is better with her in it, and so we put in work to keep each other in each others lives, but are flexible and graceful (on a good day!) about what that can look like.
I know, completely, entirely, and truly, that I’m working towards being a better lifelong partner to her everyday, and that single fact grounds me completely. And once I made that mental switch, and was able to put all my abandonment issues to rest- suddenly, her sleeping with other people didn’t mean a thing. That being said - relationship is 100% monogamous (beyond the occasional threesome) when we’re in the same place. I’ve been in hetero open relationships and i must admit - straight men are too difficult to sustain that kind of thing with. They’re petty, jealous, frustrating, often dishonest by omission, and generally a shit show to communicate with even on the best of days. Being in love with and dating a woman is a breath of fresh air by comparison. I think especially being young and in a serious relationship, opening the relationship up allows you to grow and change and develop in different ways, whilst still remaining present for and able to give love to your partner.”
“An open relationship is an understanding between two consenting adults who know that they like spending time and being around each other but also respect each others wishes when it comes to being open to developing emotional and physical connections. There is this one book I read called Sex At Dawn by Christopher Ryan and Cacilda Jethá really opened my mind up to the concept of open relationships. In this book, they have presented scientific evidence which illustrates how humans aren’t really meant to be monogamous and how having multiple sexual relationships was not frowned upon or considered ‘slutty’ or ‘promiscuous’. I feel it’s natural to be drawn to attractive people and I eventually got sick of feeling guilty about it.
I am in an open-ish relationship now, where me and my partner are open to bringing other people into our sex life but we wouldn’t date other people. It makes our relationship semi-exclusive and monogamous for the most part but it keeps things fun in the bedroom. Both of us are adults and we know what is best for us and each other as well. A like minded partner can really simplify this whole process and take the taboo out of it. We met on an online dating site so there was really never any ice to break for us sexually or otherwise. I guess transparency is key in such situations but apart from that no rules or restrictions make sense to me.”
“My boyfriend and I have been together for 7 years. 7 years into the relationship, I cheated on him, only to find out that he also had cheated on me. After months of arguing, fighting and blame games we came to realise that we didn’t cheat because we loved each other any less. It was the long distance that killed it. This is when we started accepting that maybe it is okay to be in an open relationship. Our love for each other still remains the same, even a year after the cheating and multiple break ups, we still want to be together.
I was never a believer of open relationships but after what we went through, we tried it out. We were always honest to each other about whatever we did and neither of us were able to get emotionally involved with another person. It was always purely physical to keep our relationship alive. Initially it was very difficult to be honest about the third person and even more to hear about his hook up. Jealousy, insecurity, etc followed but it got better with time. 7 years ago, I never thought our relationship would come to this. But if an open relationship is what keeps our relationship alive and builds our trust, then it’s worth it. It was a phase of our relationship to fulfill needs that we couldn’t otherwise. Over time, we both found no meaning in random hookups and one nights stands and leant to value each other more and more.
Today, we’re together, no open relationship, no dishonesty. It was a phase that I don’t regret. We both learnt from it and are extremely honest and happy with each other today. Our love has been growing through years and will continue to grow without anything else affecting it.”
“To me I’ve always identified as having the propensity to love more than one person. Let’s not get caught up in the ‘being in love’ part! I mean we all have multiple relationships throughout our lives, in different capacities. How is it possible for someone to tell another than they are allowed to only feel to a certain degree for somebody otherwise we’ve crossed some grave line of no return. How can you control the way someone feels for another person? Monogamy lets you fantasise in your heads but as long as it’s not acted out, it’s ok. The question i’ve asked myself always is “Why wouldn’t I be happy that another person makes my significant other happy?” But as long as it’s not me, there is a problem. Because the fear is that they will replace you? Make you feel useless ? The truth is no one can replace you. No two relationships will ever be the same. Even if they try.
Polygamous relationships of any kind force you to over-communicate - you have to. You have no choice. Is it tedious and tiring? Yes it can be, but that’s a little price to pay. The good part? You learn to communicate. You learn to listen. You learn to be aware of several people evolving around you. You learn to polish your intentions and most of all be clear with yourself. Sex is no different from monogamous relationships except you gravitate at different relationships based on how you feel for that person. So maybe you don’t vibrate with one so sexually and that’s ok, there isn’t any pressure to make it work or not. You tend to not look at it as an end. I feel sex with one partner can fuel sex with another partner, can rekindle a boring physical/emotional bond. The room to fantasize is endless.”
“When a friend of mine explained open relationships to me, I fucking loved the idea. I mean all the ‘issues’ I had, weren’t even issues anymore. Can’t commit? Great! In love with someone, but also like other people? No issues. Want to be with other people, but come home to ‘THE ONE’? Well, now you can! Fast-forward to when I met Mr. Doucheface. We both obviously fancied each other, to a point where we wanted it to be something more. But in the 21st century, relationships are horrible things to get into. So me being my unique self, put a normal relationship off the table and put an open relationship on the table.
The beginning was great! There are so many new possibilities, and no restrictions. We set out a few rules, and it was a lot of fun putting down these rules and just being so free. What I did not realize, was in the beginning, it wasn’t really an open relationship. It was a game, and we’d always end up in each others beds. But what put our open relationship to the test was when I had finally been with someone else. He did not take it well. He didn’t come home for two days, and when he did it was with hickeys on his neck.
In that moment, I had the realest realization I’d had in awhile. At what point did being in an open relationship turn into a game? The line is very blurred when it comes to being in a genuine open relationship or not because one can fake being okay with the ideas of an open relationship. How will I ever know? He was hooking up with other people but he isn’t crossing a line. He’s doing exactly what we sought out to do, so why does this feel wrong? He faked it, he faked the fact that he’d be okay with an open relationship, and look where we are now? Disappointed and distant.
I sincerely urge anyone who wants to get into an open relationship to be more than a 100% okay with the concept of it. Otherwise you’re going to hurt yourself and lose people in the process, just like he lost me. Prioritize each other’s happiness first, and know that whatever your S.O is doing, is giving her/him happiness and then make peace with that, even if it does not settle well with you.”
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Feature Image Credit: Manasi Vaidya
*Name Changed To Protect Identity