Here’s the deal: We have fairly rigid ideas about how to have “the talk.” It usually goes something like this: Person X and Person Y hang out. Repeat as necessary. Things begin to feel serious; either X or Y wonders whether or not the relationship is exclusive:
“Hmmm, is my guy/gal seeing other people? Will they be pissed off if I do?”
It’s go time to DTR (define the relationship). You have a conversation about couplehood — but there’s a problem. Although we’re often confronted by smiling pairs of the opposite sex and same ethnicity couples in toothpaste commercials and TV shows, we don’t necessarily have strong guidance regarding how to conduct healthy, affirming dialogues about relationships that do not fit neatly inside the one-size boxes that are supposed to fit all relationships.
Here are some do's and don'ts to help you talk about monogamy (or non-monogamy) in a way that respects everyone involved:
• DO realize you are an important participant in the conversation — so show up! You are most likely to find a partner who will value your desires and intentions when you express them honestly.
• DON’T say what you think the other person wants to hear. Say what you mean.
• DO acknowledge the difference between privacy and secrecy. Privacy is what you do without your partner’s knowledge. Secrecy is willfully keeping information from your partner that should likely be revealed. Fantasizing about having sex with an ex is a private thought. Hooking up with your ex while maintaining a facade of monogamy with your current partner is a secret action.
• DON’T forget “the talk” should be an ongoing conversation — things change.
• DO be explicitly clear to avoid misunderstandings. For example, if you say you want to “open up” the relationship, discuss whether that means you’ll independently see other people or collectively agree to add partners to your relationship.
• DON’T assume your partner doesn’t share your desires. Maybe they want a monogamous relationship, too. Maybe neither of you do.
• DO understand that we often become aware of boundaries only after we’ve brushed against them. While you or your lover might believe you are comfortable with a particular decision, feelings might change once actions are taken.
• DON’T forget that the possibilities are endless. Your relationship can be whatever you and your bed buddy want it to be.