Dear Level

An Open Relationship Is No Excuse For Infidelity

Respect the boundaries of your relationship—monogamous or otherwise—for a drama-free love life

Illustration: Save As/Medium; Source: Getty Images

From the onset of my relationships with Darius and Damian — the men who eventually became my first and second husbands — I was forthcoming about my unwillingness to stop dating Dwayne. He was a man I’d met and fallen in love with long before each of my husbands entered my life.

Throughout the dating process and while living with me before our marriages, Darius and Damian respectively accepted that Dwayne’s needs came before theirs. So, when each of them suggested marriage, I was willing — so long as it didn’t alter our polyamorous arrangement. They accepted the terms, and with that, both Darius and Damian became cuckolds.

I loved it.

Both were kept men who didn’t work regularly or pay bills, which was also part of the cuckoldry lifestyle. If they wanted to have sex with other women at any time, they could do so while living on their own, but not while being supported by me. Communication and transparency were all I asked for — I wanted both relationships to be devoid of lies, omissions, or cheating. Still, even with clearly marked exits and the example of my own honesty, Darius and Damian lied, omitted, and cheated, hence our respective divorces.

Many years later, with Darius and Damian out of my life for good, I entered into a relationship with a polygamist of Muslim faith. Wealthy and worldly, the Polygamist Prince already had many wives when I became one of his concubines.

Early in our relationship, the Prince explained the logistics of his love life. Each of his wives shouldered varying degrees of domestic obligation; his most tenured wife carried more responsibility than the others, while his most recent spouse (whom he referred to as the “fun wife”) carried the least. He wasn’t allowed to bed women who hadn’t been approved to be concubines, temporary spouses, or permanent wives. So his three concubines, including me, were approved by his first two wives. This meant our relationship didn’t constitute infidelity. Or at least that was the plan.

Much like his most recent wife, my role in his life was leisurely. I only saw the Polygamist Prince every three months or so, as he traveled often and divided his time between his wives and children. He took care of all of my expenses. It was my first time knowingly being part of a harem; at a time when I needed to focus on myself, our arrangement was perfect. And then one day, after four months apart, the Prince called with some bad news: He’d cheated on his wives and had given them all a curable STD.

With a cryptic apology, he told me we could no longer be lovers, with which I agreed. Within hours of our phone call, he disconnected all of his phone numbers and email addresses and left my life forever. I was shocked. Even with multiple spouses and concubines, the Polygamist Prince still cheated on his wives and put their health, his wealth, and his reputation at risk.

Each of these situations demonstrates two things. First, there’s someone out there romantically looking for the same thing as you, regardless of the nature or number of participants. Secondly, violating agreed-upon boundaries can swiftly erode any relationship’s trust and stability — even ethical nonmonogamous ones.

Polyamory isn’t wrong. As with any lifestyle, wanting to be in a relationship with multiple people is a reasonable personal preference. What is wrong, however, is deceiving your partner. For men who create nonconsensual cucks out of their partners, the problem often isn’t necessarily their desire to have sex with someone else, it’s the fact they haven’t been honest about that desire.

The gaslighting and emotional abuse required to lie, omit, and cheat on the person you supposedly love is a form of emotional torment that can be just as damaging as physical abuse. The psychological effects of infidelity can be lifelong, shattering self-esteem while also causing eating disorders, anxiety, depression, self-isolation, and/or self-harm.

If you have an urge to be with more than one partner, it’s important to be forthright about that. Not every woman is looking for monogamy, just as there are men who aren’t built or ready to be with just one lover. So why waste time and ruin lives by hooking up with someone who isn’t after the same thing?

While physical features, compatible personality traits, religious beliefs, and socioeconomic, educational, and professional backgrounds or trajectories often top checklists when scouting a new lover, too often, potential couples don’t talk about sexual fantasies, preferences, expectations, and proclivities. Some fear rejection — but isn’t the point of dating to disqualify as many people as possible as to find someone who’s on the same page?

This is why niche dating sites are so popular. No matter your preference, there’s an app for that. If you’re single and still looking for your perfect match, be intentional about how and where you search.

If you’re already in a committed relationship and have a wandering eye but suspect your partner would never be open to the possibility of an open relationship, it’s time for some real talk. Telling your partner you want to have sex or relationships with other people may not be easy, but it will be honest. People who cheat tend to think they’re saving their partners and families from the pain of knowing the truth; in reality, a lie is always more devastating.

Whether you’re in a monogamous or open relationship, give your partner the ability to make an informed decision, just as the Polygamist Prince did with me. Don’t abuse their love and trust by lying, omitting, and cheating. Honor your relationship by being transparent and thus offering the chance to exit the relationship before things get any more painful. You might be surprised; perhaps your openness may give your partner the confidence to share their own desires — which may be more aligned with yours than you’d expect.

Relationships never end; they only change. Once someone has touched your life, they’ll always be a part of you. We have to love each other enough to allow those relationships to adjust. That might mean having to set them free, but it also means you’ll be free to find love(s) better suited to your wants and needs.

Whether you’re polyamorous or monogamous, you won’t go wrong if you follow the golden rule: Honesty is the best policy.

3x New York Times bestselling author, copywriter, and columnist.

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