The Dating Nerd is a shadowy figure whose whereabouts and identifying details remain unknown. What we do know is that he is really, really good at dating. He’s been on more dates than you can shake a lengthy bar tab at, and he’s here to help the average guy step his dating game up a notch — or several.
Hi Dating Nerd,
I have a problem. There’s this girl I met on Zoosk.com. Things are going amazingly well. We have the same sense of humour, we like the same TV shows, all of that stuff. It’s just easy. It feels like there’s real long-term potential here. But the problem is that she really, really wants an open relationship. In fact, she says she isn’t happy with monogamy long-term. And I’m grossed out by the idea of an open relationship. I don’t even want to try it, or even talk about it that much, frankly. She’s spent a lot of time trying to convince me that open relationships are cool, but I just don’t buy it. Is there any way we can work this out?
– One-Woman Man
Hi One-Woman Man,
Unfortunately, the answer is no. There’s no practical way to deal with this. If the only relationship she’d be happy with is an open relationship, and you really don’t want to try that, the relationship is fundamentally over. It’s just a question of when the trigger gets pulled on this thing. I’m sorry.
Listen. Agreeing about sexuality is a huge part of relationship compatibility. Easily as important as anything else — religious beliefs, financial goals, whatever. If you don’t have a comfortable intimate life, then bitterness and apathy will soon occur. You’ll just hate each other. And if she wants to sleep with other people, and you don’t, that means she’s already bored with your love life. She wants to take steps to correct that, which is good, but it’s not necessarily correctible.
You might feel uncool for not wanting an open relationship. Like, you should be more open-minded, it’s the 21st century, and whatever. Our culture has changed a lot — we’re living in a sex-positive time, even more than five years ago, where we’re judged less harshly for being promiscuous. And this is really sweet, freedom is great, in principle we’ll all be happier the less we have to deal with crazy expectations about what we do or don’t do with our genitalia.
But the bad part about this is that the concept of monogamy and all its dusty old trappings now seem outdated. Like, marriage is regarded as a hokey museum piece from ancient times, only sleeping with one person is seen as a horrific sacrifice based on the perpetuation of antiquated gender roles, stifling your desire for sexual novelty is seen as a kind of censorship of the soul. And maybe there’s a tiny bit of truth to all of that. But, ultimately, nobody should be judged for having certain relationship needs — if wild polyamorous hippies who like having group sex in tree-houses deserve freedom from social disapproval, then so do all the old-fashioned humans who like mating for life. If someone needs to sleep with 20 people to have an authentic experience, that’s cool, but their preferences don’t mean that your preferences are invalid, or lame. (I especially think I should stress this because you’re a dude, and there’s a cultural myth that all men want, to the inclusion of other things, is the chance to throw their dick at as many people as possible.)
And there are lots of fantastic things about monogamy, obviously. There’s the whole avoiding disease thing, which is very important — free love seems great until you’re at a pharmacy waiting for antibiotics for some incredibly icky bacteria you picked up while you were pursuing your sexual nature. When you’re monogamous, you’re never confused about where your affection is coming from, or who loves you most, or who’s on your side. Also, when you’re not constantly thinking about the possibility of getting it on with somebody new, you just get more things done. Personally, I prefer when my to-do list has constructive projects on it, rather than a bunch of random people.
Open relationships are also romantically riskier, no matter how much you hear from people who practice polyamory that they’ve transcended jealousy, and that monogamy is unnatural, and so on. The math is simple. There’s absolutely no guarantee that your emotions won’t get tied up with someone you sleep with. Our hearts aren’t totally in our control, or even slightly in our control. Sleeping with one person means you rule out that kind of romantic confusion, or at least you don’t feed into it directly.
Sometimes people who advocate open relationships will tell you that if you feel love for more than one person, you should express it, because not doing so is dishonest, or too painful to bear, and if your affection is divided, that means you’re not really a monogamy person. That’s not true. The secret of monogamy is that you’re obviously not with the only person you could ever fall in love with. That’s the tradeoff. You sacrifice the possibility of those other fun adventures. What you get back is the possibility of a spectacularly deep, nuanced, caring relationship, with your best friend, who can tolerate the smell of your farts, and all the stupid nonsense you whine about all the time.
All of this is just to say: You want monogamy. That’s cool. That’s fine. That's what you set out to find when you signed up for online dating, and you shouldn’t be ashamed. Nor should a person who wants an open relationship — despite my rantings, non-monogamy does have some upsides. But there are real benefits to your preferences. So stick with them.
This stuff is important, and the awful truth is that if you overlook it, and try to have a relationship anyway, in spite of this huge difference, one of you is going to be unhappy. In the scenario where you’re unhappy, she’s out there partying with all sorts of dudes, and you’re stewing in revulsion constantly, trying not to picture what she’s up to. Maybe you occasionally hook up outside the relationship as well, but you’re doing it just because you feel like you should want to, which is a terrible reason to have sex. Meanwhile, in the scenario where she’s unhappy, she’s not turned on by you anymore and is sort of half-heartedly continuing her domestic sex life, until one day she finally can’t take it anymore and cheats on you, because she’s being forced into choosing between betraying you or betraying herself.
This is no way to live.
Ultimately, a great relationship isn’t just about getting along with somebody, or making somebody laugh, or thinking their butt looks great in Swedish jeans. It’s about agreeing on the kind of life you want to live together, and then pursuing that as hard as possible. You’re in one of the most painful relationship situations there is: You’ve found someone great, but they want to live on a different sexual planet. If you really like this girl, and you want her to be happy, accept the fact that she’ll be miserable in the kind of relationship you want. The sooner you come to grips with that, the sooner you can keep looking for someone who can bring you lasting happiness.