Arielle Pardes | Have your cake and eat it, too
The Screwtinizer | Open relationships are becoming the “new monogamy” in college
October 23, 2013, 6:53 pm · Updated October 23, 2013, 11:44 pm·
When college freshman Eryn Hughes and her boyfriend realized they would go long-distance during college — she matriculated at Penn, and he enrolled at Duke — they considered breaking up. But after just a few weeks into their respective college lives, it was clear that they still wanted to be together.
“We realized that not being together was silly, but we also didn’t want to feel guilty if we went out and hooked up with someone else,” Hughes said. “So we figured this was the best solution.”
They got back together, with a caveat: they’re allowed to hook up with other people.
Cheater, cheater, pumpkin eater?
Not quite. Like many college couples, Hughes and her boyfriend opted for an open relationship. Described more formally as “ethical non-monogamy,” couples scrap the standard of exclusivity and replace it with mutually approved boundaries for what is and isn’t kosher. So sleeping with someone else isn’t infidelity — it’s openness. And it’s becoming increasingly common.
A few years ago, Hughes would have never envisioned herself in such an arrangement — but now, she can rattle off a list of several friends who are also practicing non-monogamy.
“It was the best case scenario for my situation, and I’ve definitely seen it becoming more of a trend,” explained Hughes.
Trendy, no doubt. The “new monogamy” is all the rage in the media lately, from The New York Times Magazine’s controversial cover story in 2011 suggesting that “Infidelity Keeps Us Together” to to the blog on Vogue.com this week asking, “Can an open relationship work?” Two months ago, the BBC broadcasted a program suggesting that relationships involving multiple partners “could become the new normal.”
There’s actually nothing new about non-monogamy. Decades ago, syndicated sex columnist Dan Savage championed the idea of “monogamish” — mostly monogamous, with room for concessions. However, the growing popularity of open relationships on college campuses is new.
“In college, you’re most often at the very beginning of your sexual evolution and still figuring out who you are and what you want,” said Tristan Taormino, author of “Opening Up: A Guide to Creating and Sustaining Open Relationships.” “I feel like that’s the perfect time to question what constitutes a healthy or fulfilling relationship,” she said.
College relationships can feel stifling. Charged with “making the most” of our four short years at Penn, both socially and academically, a standing partner can sometimes feel more suffocating than supportive.
And while non-monogamy isn’t a cure-all for relationships that don’t feel salubrious to begin with, it can relieve the smothering sense of FOMO from college relationships.
College senior Chris Kampmeyer had been monogamously dating his girlfriend since the summer after high school, but opened the relationship last year when she had a tryst with another girl.
“We jumped into it with the understanding that we were in love with each other and that being in an open relationship didn’t have to change that,” said Kampmeyer. “I used to think that if you were in an open relationship, there was no way you could be serious with your partner. I know now that this is definitely not the case.”
At first, the arrangement was for abiding for sexual exploration — but soon, they realized that “this was something we could not only handle, but also really enjoy.” Kampmeyer believes the openness has not only amped up their sex lives with others, but improved their own intimacy.
“In fact, I’d say it’s healthier than many closed relationships I’ve witnessed,” added Kampmeyer.
Hughes echoed the sentiment.
“In a weird way, I think it makes us trust each other more,” she said, noting that her arrangement impedes betrayal, dishonesty or guilt.
Still, the arrangement is not without flaws. Hughes battles jealousy when she sees girls from Duke interacting with her boyfriend on Twitter or Facebook and admits that if it weren’t for the distance, they would likely be monogamous.
But Kampmeyer and his girlfriend say they’ve moved past most of the jealousy and are enjoying what non-monogamy has to offer. They plan to move in together upon graduation and continue the open arrangement.
Cheaters never prosper — but those who can challenge the convention of monogamy within a safe, trusting and communicative relationship are finding that they can have the best of both worlds.
Arielle Pardes is a College senior from San Diego. Her email address is email@example.com. You can follow her @pardesoteric. “The Screwtinizer” appears every Thursday.