Dear Dr. Frankie,
My girlfriend and I have been together for two years. Last year, she went to grad school abroad, and the other day she called with a request: Can she have the freedom to sleep with other women even though she doesn’t want to have a relationship with them?
Honestly, I hate this idea and it makes me distrust whatever she’s doing over there. I feel like I’m stuck in a bad situation where if I say no she’ll just do whatever she wants or else not do it and resent me, but if I say yes I’m agreeing to something I don’t want and is against my morals.
Thanks for any advice,
Dear Feeling Compromised,
Long-distance relationships are hard. Even more than other types of relationships, long-distance requires that you constantly decide to stay together. It’s easy to work on autopilot when you’re together all the time. It’s harder when you have to choose your partner over and over. But here’s the thing: in healthy relationships, you always have to choose your partner over and over. Being in a relationship is as active a decision as leaving one.
You approach your letter with a sense of helplessness, like the two choices you have are either that your partner will make one decision and you will hate it, or that your partner will make a different decision and then will hate you. But you have so many other decisions you can make. You can decide to open your relationship and love it. You can decide to talk more about what you both want your relationship to look like. You can decide to ignore the distance and hope it will go away. And you can decide you have a need for sexual monogamy, and that you want to get that need met, even if it means meeting it with someone who isn’t your current girlfriend.
If you decide to stay in the relationship or talk about what opening it would look like, start by discussing what an open relationship means to both of you, emotionally and logistically. In other words, you’ll need to lay some ground rules together. Don’t start with parameters like “no sleepovers” or “don’t fall in love with her.” Start with how you feel, like “I feel jealous that while we’re far apart we can’t sleep next to each other, and it makes me feel insecure that someone else might get to,” or “to me, sex sometimes goes hand in hand with falling in love, so while you say you want just casual sex, I’m concerned that that might happen. Here’s the reassurance that I want and can offer in return.”
Here’s what not to do, no matter what you decide: make sweeping statements about “morals.” Many people have your same knee-jerk ”no” to the idea of an open relationship. If it’s never come up before, it can be an unwelcome surprise, or it can challenge the idea of what you thought your relationship would look like. If you truly don’t believe that you can effectively, authentically be with more than one person at a time in a relationship and be happy when people you date do the same, then be direct and honest with your girlfriend about it, but try not to come from a place of judgment.
Ideally, you’d enter any conversation about changing your relationship with a rock-solid foundation of trust. I can tell that that’s not the case here. That means that whatever you decide, if you choose to stay together you’ll need to address those underlying issues sooner or later. I’m not saying that if you’re used to monogamy, not being immediately and completely on board with such a surprising big change when your girlfriend is so far away means that your relationship is rocky. But whether or not you stay in the relationship, it’s worth looking at the trust — and jealousy? — feelings you’re having to see what else, if anything, might be going on.
Of course, even if you open your relationship and get to a good place in your conversations, an open lesbian relationship may not work for you. It’s okay to accept this. Feelings such as jealousy, envy, and insecurity can pop up and interrupt any well-crafted arrangement, depending on how you handle them. Based on your very strong words against an open relationship, I think you might not be the best candidate for this arrangement.
If you decide it’s just not for you, be respectful to yourself and your girlfriend and end the relationship. It’s important to remember that you both deserve to get your needs met and have the relationships and experiences that you deserve. There are just as many women who want an open lesbian relationship as there are who want a closed, monogamous relationship.