Advice From Stoya: Can An Open Marriage Ever Work?

We love chatting with Stoya — writer, thinker, on-screen-sex haver — about all manner of sexual, sensual, and feminist topics. In fact, we had so much fun talking with her that we asked her to write a monthly sex and relationship advice column. Have a burning question? Send any and all queries to stoya@refinery29.com.
I've been seeing this guy for nine months. From the beginning, we've both said to each other that we didn't want a relationship and wouldn't get emotionally attached to each other. As time went by, we kept seeing each other. We've gone to the movies, we've had sex, and I've met his family. I've realized that he does care about me, but he still feels no need for a title. We both enjoy being with each other, and we have great conversations. We can talk for hours... He was in a long-distance relationship for four years and is used to being alone; he says that's his reason for not wanting a relationship. What do I do?
-V
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You are in a relationship. You’re in a relationship where you both said you wouldn’t get emotionally attached to each other at the beginning, and now at least one of you seems to have gotten emotionally attached. This isn’t surprising, since spending lots of time together and having great conversations is essentially a recipe for emotional attachment of some sort, be it the romantic kind or the friendship kind.
And, of course, there’s the sexual interaction and (especially if you have orgasms and/or snuggle afterwards) the warm fuzzies triggered by oxytocin. Because, even if it were possible for any relationship to be entirely physical, it would still be subject to those physical side effects of sex.
Conspicuously missing from your question is any information on how you’re feeling and what you want. So, I suggest you start by figuring that out. Take some time with yourself to examine whether you want a serious romantic relationship at all, what your feelings are towards this specific person, and what you want out of your relationship with them.
Then, share your desires and feelings with the person you’re seeing. Ask them where they’re at emotionally, and what they want. Try to make sure you’re both actually communicating, meaning you’re really understanding what the other is saying.
I think after you do those two things, you’ll have a much better idea of what to do.
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I've been divorced for over a year. I hate online dating — or all dating for that matter. It is stressful and makes me feel sad and bad about myself. There are so many liars out there — how can I trust? But, my question is about open marriage: I met a man whose wife I knew from another friend. I was unaware of their arrangement until we were all out one night. The wife left for a date, and I was chatting with her husband — we just hit it off. Then, he asked, "Are we gonna kiss now?" So, we did. It was incredible kissing — that's my thing. The next weekend, it was the same senerio but became more involved. I don't know if I want to continue this (and I hate how compatible we are) but I do know he is only in it for the sex. Can I say I want more of a friendship instead of just a Saturday-night fuck? He texts me every day... I guess I have to treat this as a friends-with-benefits situation because he is married. That way, I can remain sane and not expect any more. Any advice you have on open marriage would be appreciated!
-D
Marriage, open marriage, friends with benefits, no strings attached, dating. These are all labels we use as shorthand to describe our relationships with each other. This shorthand is great when we’re filling out medical forms or Facebook profiles. It is fantastic when we’re describing something to a new acquaintance who has neither the time nor interest to hear a detailed account of precisely why all neon-green mesh boy shorts are reserved solely for dates with our primary partner.
Within our own relationships, or when developing a relationship with someone who has pre-existing romantic commitments, this shorthand becomes a liability. Lack of communication leads to hurt feelings, shredded hearts, and land mines of drama exploding all over the place.
First, decide what you want. Not what you guess you have to treat it as, not what you think you can get, but what you want. Try to set aside everything you’ve internalized about what typical relationships look like and imagine the ideal scenario for your sexual and romantic life right now.
Next, go to the couple and find out what their arrangement actually is. While a number of couples do have a "don’t ask, don’t tell" policy, I believe it is best to err on the side of caution by verifying anything you hear about their arrangement with the other partner before proceeding.
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Then, express your wants and see if the three of you can accommodate each other. The balance between respect for existing emotional and romantic commitments and the self-care of expressing your own wants and needs can get very complicated very quickly. You could even call it stressful.
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