‘The more the merrier’ is a fairly common saying. It’s a response that works for “Can I bring a friend to the party?”, “Should we get another dog even though we already have 17?”, and apparently, “Should I make my students read another 40-page paper the day before the exam?”. For some reason, however, this sentiment doesn’t seem to apply to the concept of soulmates (or soup snakes, if you’re Michael Scott).
The stereotype is that there is one soulmate out there for each of us; someone we’re destined to be with forever and ever. That concept sounds great to some, and terrifying to others. What if you’ve already met your soulmate but swiped left? What if they’re your soulmate, but you’re not theirs — can that happen? What if you have more than one soulmate? What if you have a soulmate but still like to have other partners?
The word soulmate connotes a stereotypical, Hallmark relationship that isn’t universal. As Ross Geller so eloquently put it, “Well you know, monogamy can be a tricky concept, I mean anthropologically speaking…”
Ross is irritating and kind of a bad guy, but he’s not wrong. According to a 2012 study called The Fewer the Merrier, consensual, non-monogamous relationships are viewed as less natural than monogamous relationships. But from an evolutionary psychology perspective, it’s monogamy that could be considered unnatural, says Peter Hegarty, a professor at the University of Surrey. There are many examples of cultures that practice polyamory or relationships that involve more than two people.
Monogamy works for me (and I don’t plan on changing my ways), but I see no reason to judge those whose relationships look different than mine. So I couldn’t help but wonder, why is there a stigma associated with non-normative romantic relationships?
My friend Cam* is a fourth-year UVic student and they have an open relationship with their partner of three years. I caught up with them to get some insight into what non-monogamous romance is actually like and how people perceive their relationship (there were no cosmopolitans involved, let it go).
DEVON: How did you first hear about open relationships?
CAM: It might have been through shows like Sex and The City. Then when I moved to Victoria and got Tinder, I noticed it was something lots of people mentioned in their profiles which made me realize it might be a valid option.
What drew you to a non-monogamous relationship?
I think I never felt like monogamy was right for me. It fit for a little while but it never felt totally right. In an open relationship, I feel like I’m paving my own way and creating my relationship around the comfort level and desires of myself and my partner.
Did you do any research first?
Yeah! Since it was a new thing for both me and my partner, we were concerned about jealousy. But I found the more we read about the irrational fears behind jealousy, the more comfortable we felt. The Jealousy Workbook: Exercises and Insights for Managing Open Relationships [by Kathy Labriola] was a really tremendous resource for understanding the deeper motivations behind jealousy.
What are some of the concerns people have about open relationships? Are they valid? If yes, how do you deal with them?
Jealousy. It seems like a common feeling, but once you learn to investigate the deeper reasons for the feeling and address those parts of your relationship, it’s totally manageable. For example, my jealousy does not stem from sharing my partner, it stems from having nothing fun to do if [they are] off having fun… so to deal with that, I look for other social outlets like hanging with friends.
Sharing time with other partners. Since I’m in an open relationship and not polyamorous, I have one main partner — so it’s important I make that partner feel special and like my number one.
Sexual health. I think many people are rightfully concerned with sexual health. We deal with that by using protection, getting tested often, and having good communication with partners.
Would you consider an open marriage?
I would consider it, but the thing I love most about my open relationship is feeling like I’m creating it to suit me and my partner — so at the moment I don’t ever want to get married because that to me would feel like being forced to conform to society’s expectations of my relationship.
Have your friends and family been accepting?
Most of my friends have been very accepting, although they don’t always understand and they often project their own relationship worries and concerns on me. Almost everyone I have told has said, “That’s cool, but it would never work for me.” Which is totally fair, but I think people don’t give it fair consideration.
I have chosen not to tell my family yet.
Have you had any negative responses?
Mostly just what I said [before] about people seeming to judge me for “being able” to do it when they can’t imagine a non-monogamous relationship.
I think some of my guy friends also take it as an opportunity to hit on me which it is not. If I only wanted to be your friend before I opened up my relationship, then that is still the case.
What are the steps for going into an open relationship?
Research, discuss, think it over alone, discuss again. We chose to open it up slowly to texting and flirting [with] other people until we were comfortable to open it up further.
Did you lay out ground rules?
Of course. And we’ve continued to add more and change those rules as we’ve learned what we’re comfortable with and what makes us uncomfortable.
Did you reassess those with your partner after some time?
Yes, there is a big learning curve. So constant, open communication is required to assess how the other person is feeling, whether things are moving too fast. We actually stopped being open for a month to re-evaluate and concluded this is something we want.
Have there been times when you’ve been unsure about it?
I think it’s easy to second guess anything but we just try to communicate all our feelings with each other.
What has been the benefit of being in an open relationship for you personally?
It’s allowed me to learn so much about what makes me happy in relationships. I’ve also learned that open communication takes a lot of effort but is totally worth it.
What is your advice for people who are interested in this kind of relationship?
Do lots of research! My partner and I talked about it for a year before we tried it. Sit down and have a really honest and respectful conversation about all your relationship fears and insecurities, and do this often.
Is there anything else that you think Martlet readers should know about open relationships?
Just don’t feel guilty if monogamy isn’t right for you! It’s okay to create your own path.
It’s exciting that we have the privilege to define our relationships however we want. We should celebrate the fact that different kinds of relationships exist. The more the merrier, right? Just because something doesn’t work for you, doesn’t mean it can’t make someone else really happy.
This interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.
*Names and details have been changed to respect the individual’s privacy.