My ideal partner is a lot of things: tall (I’m 6’1” and I like feeling small, allow me this one simple pleasure), funny, similar music and film tastes, has the same political ideologies as me, doesn’t like high adrenaline sports. Likes to be spontaneous, loves shopping and hot tubs, understands and tolerates my mental illness, likes milkshakes, loves horror movies and dresses really well.
You see, the list is endless, and some things are more important than others. I have never met anyone who ticks off every single box and I’m pretty sure I never will. Does this mean I have to give up enjoying some of those things I love doing with a romantic partner? Is the idea that one person is enough for everyone and monogamy is the only way to have a deep and meaningful relationship correct? Is having more than one partner greedy? And does it ultimately mean that you are unhappy in your relationship?
When we look for a partner, we put a lot of pressure on that person to fit all our ideals and to check off those dealbreakers – something we wouldn’t do in any other aspect of our lives. You wouldn’t expect the nice work colleagues you go for a drink with once a week to suddenly be the ones you need to talk about deep relationship problems with, would you? And you wouldn’t want your friends that inexplicably have their shit together, the ones who somehow have a mortgage and a baby and don’t ever look frazzled, to join you on the Saturday night sesh. People fulfil different roles in our lives, so why shouldn’t a partner?
The World of Open Relationships and Non-Monogamy is a vast spectrum. It can be as simple as enjoying threesomes or even having complex, simultaneous polyamorous relationships. Over the many lockdowns, people were spending an increased amount of time with their partners. It meant a lot of re-evaluating of relationships.
Ana Kirova, the CEO of dating app Feeld – an app that offers more alternative relationship filters like non-monogamy, threesomes and kink – says: “Since March 2021, we’ve seen a 50 per cent increase in users in the UK alone, translating a demand and interest in this in alternative forms of relationships, trying out and exploring what is out there.”
In fact, since lockdown has eased, Feeld’s stats have shown that its UK user base has grown significantly, and not only that, but the number of users who mention tags like casual, dates, sensual and kink has increased. Users who mention ENM (ethical non-monogamy) and poly-related terms from London specifically has increased by 118 per cent from January 2021 to September 2021.
Kirova says that Feeld hasn’t pushed the terms or advertised them. “People naturally find out about it, and they add it to their profiles because they’re interested,” she says. “It’s an organic uptake, people who are probably educating themselves about something they want to try, and the pandemic has definitely increased that.”
Even if you have decided that non-monogamy is a good fit for you, asking your partner to open up your relationship is a pretty huge decision. How to go about this, being sure to be mindful of things like jealousy and feelings of inadequacy and insecurities your partner might be experiencing, is incredibly important.
Reassure them that your feelings haven’t changed for them and that this is something that you want to share as a couple, and set your boundaries and expectations together by writing them down. Do you want your partner’s new girl/boyfriend to come to your place? Or would you rather you both meet your new hookups at a neutral place? Are emotional relationships allowed? Are mutual friends off-limits? Make sure you are both comfortable with your arrangement.
Dan*, 21 and from the UK, tells us that making sure the agreed boundaries between him and his girlfriend in their open relationship helps things stay healthy.
“The strict boundaries are largely that we use protection to keep each other safe and prevent unwanted pregnancies, to not have sex with our friends, and not become friends with people we are having sex with,” he says. “It gives us security that other emotional attachments won’t develop in a way that could harm our relationship. Another strict rule is to always tell partners about anything we get up to.”
Sarah* from London explains how boundaries keep her and her partner safe, but also how it makes having an open relationship more enjoyable.
“I wanted to have the freedom to explore my bisexuality while in a relationship with my boyfriend,” she says. “I had always been in long-term relationships with guys and I felt I hadn’t given myself the time to date women. I love the freedom it gives me, I love having sex with different genders and I get really turned on watching my partner please other women when we have sex with people together. Our boundaries are just communication and that he doesn’t finish inside other people. It’s an intimate thing between me and him and we don’t want to run the risk of pregnancy!”
Dipping your toe into the world of open relationships is daunting, so communication is key. There’s no need to immediately update your dating profile to “ethically non-monogamous dom” just so you can accumulate a bunch of girlfriends. Rather, know what you want to get out of it first. You’re much more likely to find something meaningful and fulfilling.
*Names have been changed to protect identities.