Relationships

What It's Like To Date Someone Who's In An Open Relationship

Men and women who date people in open relationships tell us what it's like to be a "secondary."
09/19/2018 01:10pm ET | Updated September 21, 2018
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We hear a lot from couples in open relationships, but we rarely hear what it’s like to date someone in an open relationship.

In the poly community, those people are often called “secondaries.” Many polyamorous relationships follow a “primary/secondary” model, where the primary relationship supersedes other “secondary” relationships.

Those secondary relationships aren’t just about sex, though. Below, men and women share what it’s like to be with someone in an open relationship.

Martha, 28

“We met on Tinder. He told me straight away he was in an established relationship, before our first date. I was initially very apprehensive as I thought there were lot of ways this could go wrong. In the past two years I found that this relationship is, in many ways, the best I have ever been in. We used to only meet for sex, then we realized we quite like each other. His partner (my meta) was also very welcoming, and even though I’m child-free, I adore their kid.

“I have found myself wanting more, either from my person or from a new partner. I think the aspects I miss the most are the emotional support, to have someone to lean on, and the social recognition or validation, since I’m ‘officially’ single. There are benefits that compensate me for these, though, like not being tied to a place, not having to deal with the bulk of my partner’s emotional needs, no in-laws, no guilt for focusing on my career etc. In general, I’m content.”

Jillian, 29

“I met Brian on Bumble a little over a year ago. We had excellent chemistry and effortless conversation. He seemed to be able to handle my irreverent, sharp wit and returned the banter quickly. He had told me immediately that he was ‘seeing other people,’ but I misunderstood what that meant. I was casually dating a few people and thought that’s what he meant as well. I didn’t realize that he was saying he had a primary partner until about a week later. I had some reservations about it, but he was extremely understanding and respectful of my emotions. He answered anything I asked him with complete honesty and never put any pressure on me in any way. He ended things with his primary partner about two months after he and I got involved. We ended up being together for about six months.

“The most important thing about having multiple partners is that it requires 100 percent total honesty at all times. For example, if I asked a question that he thought I might not like the answer to, Brian would say something like ‘I want to tell you truth, but I’m worried it might upset you, how much information do you want me to share?’

“One of the requests I had was that when he was with me, that he just be with me. We didn’t use our phones at all. Part of that was because we didn’t have much time to see each other, with the conflicting schedules and the distance, but part of that was prioritizing that partner in the moment. We both knew we were, for lack of a better term, ‘sharing’ each other with the other people we were seeing, so it was important to make that one-on-one time count. We wanted our time to be our time, and not to detract from it with outside distractions (aside from emergencies, of course).”

Zoey, 30

“I met my boyfriend of two and a half years on OKCupid. We were both already in open, polyamorous relationships, so we were all aware of our existing relationship structures. The only challenge was figuring out how to configure our lives to include another partner. He’s my lover, boyfriend, and partner that I am committed to. I share good news with him, bad news with him, and everything in between. I strongly consider our relationship before making decisions that impact us, especially when it comes to new partners, new job opportunities and major life decisions. Because we don’t live together, we will spontaneously meet up for sex when we can. We also plan dates or stay in like a normal couple. We date others, but I don’t have any other significant others at this time.

“People are surprised that his wife is ‘OK’ with it and even more surprised that we have a friendly support system. He’s been with her for 10 years.”

Gus, 30

“I met this woman on a dating site. She was open about it in her profile. At the time I didn’t really understand it, so part of messaging and getting to know each other was her explaining her situation to me. I was and am a generally monogamous person, but she was interesting and regular dating just hadn’t been working out for me so I was trying something new. Her primary knew about me, and we sometimes spoke about him. There was no drama. The most surprising part was it almost kind of nice at times: We casually dated, and honestly we were more friends than anything else over time. I dated other people and I never really wanted more from our relationship, I think because I knew what the situation was so I think, emotionally, I held back.

“Every poly situation is different, so you really should take the time to know what you’re getting into. This is one of the reasons why a lot of poly people I know are really upfront about their situation. If you can’t accept the situation and any limitations that come with it, you should walk away. She was the first poly person I knew, but I have come to know several more. Some are really strangely domestic, in a good way. Some are situations you can tell are born from a last attempt to save a relationship. You have to know what you’re getting into.”

Liz, 49

“I’m currently dating my third married guy. It wasn’t ever my intention, but after my divorce, I said that I was ‘open to open relationships’ on OK Cupid, and it seemed that ‘taken’ men were the only ones who responded. The guy I’m dating now was one of the first guys I met: We are, primarily, really good friends. He has a very busy life, and he’s not entirely open about his relationship status (thanks to work), so we see each other at plenty of social events where we need to be just friends. We have a proper date night, often involving sex, maybe every other month. Other than that, we may have cuddly movie-watching nights, or go out for dinner or lunch, complain about work, talk about common hobbies.

“Both of us date other people. His wife knows all about this and is my friend ― she and I hang out on our own sometimes, or the two of us will double date with her and her boyfriend. I’ll go have dinner with the family sometimes, and the kids know about their folks’ dating life, too. I also hang out with some of the other women that my guy dates ― I may see them more often than I see him, thanks to the tyranny of his schedule.”