Dear Di

Studies show one in five Canadians have been in an open relationship. Illustration: Rame Abdulkader/Fulcrum
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Dear Ty, 

I’m in a relationship right now that has really loose boundaries. My partner and I sat down and decided to call it an open relationship, for clarity’s sake. On a recent trip, my partner had sex with an old flame, but when I kissed somebody else, my partner got upset with me. Is there any way to do an open relationship right?

Young, Wild and … Free?

Dear YWF, 

Open relationships can be a great way to get yours and keep mingling — truly the definition of having your cake and eating it too. But what you’re in? Not an open relationship.

Dating is hard — but sex is fun. That’s probably why a recent study conducted jointly by the University of British Columbia and Ryerson University found that one in ten Canadians would describe an open relationship as their “ideal relationship type.” The same study found that a further one in five Canadians has tried it out in the past.

Although prevailing stereotypes paint open relationships as stressful, envious, or impractical, a study conducted by the University of Guelph suggests otherwise. The data shows that people in non-monogamous relationships are just as happy, healthy, and sexually satisfied as those in monogamous ones.

So to answer your question? Yes, open relationships can be done right. But the key to doing it right is openness. You would think that’s obvious, but to some — like your partner, evidently — it’s not. 

Open relationships mean different things for different people. When some people say they’re in an open relationship, they mean that both people in the said relationship are free to have sex with other people, but that’s where they draw the line. Others might have several partners that they also share an emotional relationship with. To do it right, you really need to clarify what an open relationship means to you before you enter into one, and you need to have a partner you can trust to abide by the rules you set together.

Also a disclaimer: if you’re the jealous type, this is not for you. You need to be fully comfortable with sharing your partner in order for this to work — so this isn’t the kind of thing you should do as a compromise for commitment; an open relationship is its own kind of commitment. 

Another thing to keep in mind before engaging in an open relationship is safety. As always, using protection is the best way to ensure you don’t contract a sexually transmitted disease. You may also want to consider getting tested more often yourself.

Now in your case, even if you went into this the right way, it’s destined to fail. Why? Frankly, because your partner is a dirtbag. The last ingredient for a successful open relationship is equality. If only one of you is allowed to be open, it’s not only a doomed arrangement, it’s also mistrustful, disrespectful, and a little shady — not adjectives you want to use to describe any relationship, open or not.

My advice: find a new partner. But if this person is the love of your life, then at least have a serious talk with them about setting equal expectations.