Tuesday, June 30, 2015

My Wife's Boyfriend Wants Her to Be Monogamous -- With Him!

Dear Viny,

I'm married in an open/poly way. Actually my wife and I had together a girlfriend in the past (but it didn't work out so well). She still has (kind of) a boyfriend. The thing I'm bothered about is the fact that he wants to go monogamous with her. I've already told her to talk to him and explain that that will never be possible, but she likes him very much. I, on the other hand, don't have currently a girlfriend or a fixed partner. Actually I can go out with girls, but I can't seem to find any girl interested in joining an existing open relationship (we live in Berlin, Germany). Also, to make matters worse, I tend to fall in love easily with the girls I go out with, only to painfully find out later that they never even considered anything serious to be possible with me. My question is: how to handle such a relationship and such expectations? I'd appreciate if you could help me.

– D.


Dear D.,

Although you have asked a general question – you want to know how you and your wife can maintain a committed open relationship, given that the people in your dating pool seem to simply assume that any serious relationship entails sexual exclusivity – I would like to begin with the three specific concerns you mention.

Concern #1: Your wife's 'kind-of' boyfriend wants her to be monogamous with him, and you have told her to tell him this isn't possible, “but she likes him very much.” Whoa, wait a minute: what?! Is your wife actually entertaining the idea of ending her sexual relationship with you, so as to give this other guy what he wants? Or is she merely hoping to string him along, because she is worried that saying a firm “no” to monogamy with him will mean the end of their relationship? I would suggest that the first thing you do is get clear on why your wife is resisting this much-needed talk with her boyfriend. The foundation of every successful relationship is mutual trust and respect. And, in my opinion, trust and respect is best fostered by being who you say you are. If your wife would be willing to change the parameters of her relationship with you in order to please her boyfriend, then she needs to tell you so. If, on the other hand, she is not willing to change the parameters of her relationship with you, then she needs to be upfront with her boyfriend about where she stands. She cannot hope to have a healthy relationship with either of you unless she understands her own priorities and is willing to be honest about them.

Concern #2: You can't find anyone who is interested in joining an existing open relationship. Well, my friend, join the club! And by that, I mean the club my boyfriend and I went to a couple of weeks ago, where we spotted a coltish beauty dressed up as a unicorn, horn and all. (We assumed, of course, that her costume was a deliberate advertisement to couples searching for that rarest of beasts: the hot bi babe whose sole ambition in life is to be a third wheel on the Tricycle of Love.) Seriously, though, “we can't find someone who wants to date both of us” is a very common complaint among couples in open marriages. There are different philosophies about how to deal with this problem, but I think relationships should be allowed to develop organically. The successful triads I know all formed in one of three ways: either one member of a couple formed an intimate relationship with a third person, who then, over time, became closer to the other member of the couple; or an open couple and a single person started out as friends only, and eventually, with no pressure from the couple whatsoever, the single person became curious enough to ask about exploring something more; or two couples got together and one person dropped out of the quad. Remember, relationships between three individuals are four times more complicated than relationships between two people [A+B, A+C, B+C, and A+B+C vs. simply A+B], and therefore they take more time to develop and require more time to maintain. I think it's unwise to go looking for someone who is ready to sign up for a serious relationship with a couple without some pre-existing intimacy – either romantic intimacy with one member of the couple, or friendly intimacy with both. If you did manage to find such a person, the relationship would be unlikely to work out in the long run.

Concern #3: You keep getting your heart broken, because you are looking for love from the women you date, and the women you date are merely looking for a good time. In other words, what you want doesn't match up with what they want. So, I have to ask you: what are you doing to communicate your hopes, desires, and expectations to the women you go out with, and what are you doing to encourage them to communicate theirs to you? Do you present your situation accurately, or are you being misleading? Yes, I get it that nothing screams “Fun!” like a two-hour conversation about relationship expectations. I'm not suggesting that you bring your NVC manual and a talking stick on every first date. I'm suggesting that you hold off on falling in love with people until you get to know each other well enough to have a real conversation about what each of you is looking for. (Okay, maybe you can't hold off on falling in love – but you can hold off on developing expectations about exactly where the relationship is going to go, and try to just enjoy what is there, even if it isn't everything you're hoping it might turn out to be. The problem is that you are becoming attached to a certain outcome before you know whether that outcome is even possible.)

Now, to answer the question you asked. There is a simple solution to your dilemma, but it's not a quick fix. It will take time and patience and an unwavering commitment to showing up as your real self in all your relationships.

Are you ready? Here it is: restrict your dating pool to people who already identify as non-monogamous. It may be more difficult for you and your wife to find such people where you live, but I'm pretty sure it can be done. Berlin is a large city in a generally progressive country, and I would be surprised indeed if there weren't at least a dozen like-minded folks within a dozen kilometers of where you live. Your best chance of finding them is by being open about being open. If that is not a risk you are willing to take, try selectively expanding your social circle. Work on making new friends who are more open to the idea of open relationships. I hear the Internet is a great place to meet people who are pre-selected to share a specific interest of yours: if geocachers and rat fanciers and HAM radio enthusiasts can find each other online, so can poly people! Dating sites that cater to people in alternative relationships, or at least that do not require you to be single in order to have a profile on their site, are especially useful in this regard. I met many of my current poly friends via OKCupid. Even though I had an active profile for only a few months, several years back, I got to know some great people during that period of time – and since then, those people have introduced me to other great people (some of whom they originally met on OKCupid). 

Good luck! If it helps to imagine me here on the west coast of the USA, shaking my virtual pom-poms and cheering you on, please feel free. 

Shnuppdiwupp & Alioop,


  1. I guess this time you're a bit off. Even though Berlin is the largest German city I would infer from the sample of people from that area I met you've got a lesser chance of meeting the kind of people you're expecting there. Imagine something less like San Francisco and more lie Washington D. C. and you're getting in the right direction.

    1. I was basing my "at least a dozen in a dozen square kilometers" on a very conservative estimate, rather than any knowledge of what dating is like in Berlin (the last time I was there was in the early 2000's, and I wasn't looking to date). However, having now crunched some numbers, I can say that Berlin, in 2013, had a population of 3,375,000 living within roughly 892 square kilometers. In other words, chances are that a third of the city's population is within 12 kilometers (in any direction) of where this couple lives. Even if only one percent of these people living nearby (remember, there are a million of them!) is open to *any* kind of dating, you're still working with ten thousand possibilities -- surely SOME of them will be open to non-monogamy!