Casual vs. Serious External Relationships: What is Too Far?

Question: Are you OK with your partner building a deep, long-term relationship with someone else, or would you prefer if they just keep things casual?

With about 2.8 million U.S. couples partaking in some type of polyamorous relationship, there is no doubt that variation between each relationship exists. But how far is too far in an open relationship? Are you able to be in multiple long-term, serious relationships?

When you read about polyamorous relationships, most stories are about couples who look for a third, even a fourth, or for other various dating flings. Rarely do they mention someone dating another person extensively. So why is that?

As a woman who has been in a serious monogamous relationship for almost 3 years now, I often reflect on how my girlfriend and I have grown to be such a power couple. Like any relationship, we have hit the lowest of lows but also soared, hitting cloud nine, almost in a roller coaster fashion- up and down, twisting and turning, skyrocketing up to only sink right back down. As I work in Europe for the majority of the time and she resides in the U.S., we have discussed and attempted a more open and fluid relationship, one that allows for seeing other people to a certain extent. While we have flirted with others, occasionally seeing another person once or twice, we find that it is hard to balance devoting so much time and effort to building and maintaining our relationship, working, and also taking time to see others. Although we do prefer to keep things casual with others just out of respect, I also can’t fathom devoting serious time to multiple people without one of them getting the short end of the stick.

For example- last summer I met a girl on a semi-pro soccer team I was playing for and started communicating with her often. Texting, calling, snap chatting, sliding into each other’s DMs with memes. You know-- the entirety of modern relationships. With so much fixation on making the right impression and dating “casually,” perfectly, I was neglecting the long-term relationship I was already in. Less communication, less time spent together without social media, or being attached to our phones. Less connection. Less sex. Less, less, less. Offering a considerable amount to someone else meant only giving part of me to my partner. She felt abandoned, betrayed-- all things no one should feel in a healthy relationship. As she opened up about her feelings, we agreed that extensive contact with someone else was just not feasible. As always, that is the key: trying things, communicating, and deciding what is right for your relationship.

So, in our case, pursuing more than one serious relationship is impractical. It leaves one of us with a shorter end of the stick- a half-assed significant other. A detached significant other. We may still enjoy the occasional flirt or hook-up with another, but we create time and space to revel in exploring each other. This has given us time to become infatuated with finding new ways to keep things exciting. Sometimes that involves others entering our relationship for a limited time, but never enough to cause a divide in our relationship.

At the end of the day, each relationship is unique. Each relationship has its own needs and expectations. Each relationship has its own specific time requirements for success. If you and your partner want to try this, it is crucial to be clear about what you still expect from each other timewise. Lay down the law about what will and will not go into the second serious relationship. There is no way that even one of the 2.8 million couples in polyamorous relationships is the same. But relationships, especially long term ones, take time, effort, and dedication. And that looks different on everyone.

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