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Will you open up?

Michael David C. Tan chats with gay men in open relationships, asking them if it’s something others (in monogamous relationships) should try. After all, as one of these MSM said to him, opening a relationship is the “archetypal apple of Eden – taking a bite when no one’s looking. And that’s when we are most free.”

That they were “quite new to the arrangement” was the so-so disclaimer given me when I interviewed Andy* and Alex* in December 2012. Sometime in mid-November 2012, after three years of being together, they decided to open their relationship by advertising their search for third wheels in PlanetRomeo.com. “Since ‘yung relationship namin ng partner ko, eh, umabot na ng three years, we decided na to take it to the next level pa, particularly in terms of our sex life. Sa tagal na ng pinagsamahan namin, eh, proven na ‘yung trust and understanding namin sa isa’t-isa, kaya pareho kami nag-agree to take the challenge kung baga; another adventure siya sa buhay namin, para naman my kakaibang experience din kami na di namin malilimutan,” Andy said.

Alex emphasizes the three years that they have been together, too, as these supposedly provided them enough time to “build our trust with each other (to a high, high level). So having an open relationship is just another level of challenge to us, and it is something which we wanted and we believe that we can go along with. It’s just like another level of adventure.”

For Alex, who believes that men are “naturally malibog (promiscuous)”, “ang tukso eh nandiyan palagi sa paligid natin, kahit saan ka pumunta, kahit ano ginagawa mo at kahit sino kasama mo. Lagi ‘yang nandyan,” Instead of running away from it, though, their arrangement allows them to give in to the temptations.

So that Andy, yet again, stressed that as long as the partners trust each other, then there shouldn’t be an issue. “You should be building your trust to each other where there will be no jealousy. Everything should be detail to your partner even the most stupid part. You should handle your ego when your partner tells you that he has a huge crush with someone else, as long as he promise that it’s only you he wanted to be with forever. Put your trust to each other’s promises then you’re ready to take your relationship to the next level.

Alex emphasizes the three years that they have been together, too, as these supposedly provided them enough time to “build our trust with each other (to a high, high level). So having an open relationship is just another level of challenge to us, and it is something which we wanted and we believe that we can go along with. It’s just like another level of adventure.”

My conversations with Andy and Alex – and then Jerry and Bruno, and other couples who agreed to “chat but not interviewed”; as well as third wheel theinfidel – highlighted an arrangement that may be fast becoming common among MSM relationships even if it is not as widely discussed. We’re talking about – yes! – open relationships, of course.

DEFINING ‘RELATIONSHIP’

In Do open relationships work? in Psychology Today, Hara Estroff Marano expressed pessimism on the workability of open relationships. Mainly, for her, this is because “sooner or later someone will start forming an outside attachment that will threaten the (relationship), or one partner will tire of hearing of the other’s experiences. There’s no question that monogamy is honored as much in the breach as in the observance. But that’s no reason to toss it out the window.”

Continuing the not-so-rosy way of looking at this arrangement, Marano added:

“If you are so creative, why don’t you put that energy into the existing relationship and use the trust between you as a springboard for endless inner and outer exploration and excitement? Of course, it takes guts; it’s much easier to look outside for excitement than to find the source within.”

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But not everyone sees this as all bad.

Writing How to Have an Open Relationship in AlterNet.org, Jen Angel claimed that what define open relationships are the rules.
“Being ‘open’ is not like being single. When you’re single you can choose to sleep with or flirt with whomever you want. In an open relationship, you have boundaries and agreements established with your partners, and your choices also should reflect their needs and desires.” Because of this, “it certainly is possible to ‘cheat’ in an open relationship – by going back on an agreement or lying.”

Changes in attitudes is what Angel said are needed for open relationships to work.

“Being in open relationships takes a lot of emotional energy. But the self-awareness I bring to each relationship makes me feel authentic. Open relationships are not more politically correct or ‘hip’. They’re about choosing what’s important to you and working to live, love, process, argue, and be upset in healthy ways that make you feel empowered. Such choices make any relationship – whether open or monogamous – honest and meaningful.”

With this, Alex agrees.

“There are ‘rules’ we decided on,” he said, enumerating: 1) the practice of safer sex all the time when they have sex with each other, or when they have sex with others; 2) never to do it alone – “kelangan kung makikipag-sex kami sa iba, dapat lagi kami magkasama, kasi ayaw namin mag-worry ang isa’t-isa not only in sex but in the well-being ng partner namin”; and 3) keeping the communication lines open, “dapat alam nung isa kung sino ‘yung guy, kung malinis ba siya or okay ba sa kanya, tapos siympre kung ano ang pinag-usapan nila para di ka naman ma-out of place”.

The importance of open communications was similarly stressed by Jerry*, Bruno’s* partner. Jerry, 28, met Bruno, 34, in September 2010 in Abu Dhabi. That time, Jerry was in a failing relationship and decided to move one; he was at that time hired by the company where Bruno worked.

“He started being sweet to me, until we decided to date, and finally be together on November 20, 2010. We love each other very much, as if we’ve known each other for a long time,” Jerry said.

And then Jerry got a job offer in Afghanistan in July 2011. Bruno, on the other hand, was offered a position in a family business in October 2012, so he returned to Philippines.

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Not incidentally, “the day we entered our relationship, we talked about having an open relationship,” Jerry said. Then: “Actually, even when we were still dating, we discussed this already. Due to my past experiences, I know that most people, including myself, are looking for someone else once in a while to fulfill their fantasies.”

Not incidentally, “the day we entered our relationship, we talked about having an open relationship,” Jerry said. Then: “Actually, even when we were still dating, we discussed this already. Due to my past experiences, I know that most people, including myself, are looking for someone else once in a while to fulfill their fantasies.”

As such, it is talks like this that created trust, said Jerry, since “you can tell him everything – your wishes, your desires… The best thing being in this kind of relationship is, we never had a fight because of sex or meeting others. In the first place we let each other know if we have plans on meeting someone. We are so honest to each other.”

For Jerry and Bruno, the rules include: 1) Use of condom when having sex with others (no condom if only between the two of them); 2) Both can have sex with other partners, with the other not necessarily needed to be present; 3) Kissing is ok; and 4) No strings attached during sex.

FACING CHALLENGES

Opening a relationship does have challenges, nonetheless.

Alex said that that jealousies could occur, like when one of them would have a crush on a sex partner. “Basta ang importante eh naipapakita niya sa iyo kung sino ang kausap niya at kung magkaroon ng crush ang isa sa amin,” he nonetheless said. “‘Yan ang basic.”

For Andy, a challenge is not disclosing everything. “It’s funny to think that, even if we are supposed to have an open communication, we tend to forget some details. Sometimes we forgot to tell each other what we did because most of the time we really don’t care about it,” he said. This could be problematic if the agreement is to share ALL the details. However, “because for us sex is just a piece of bubblegum; which after being chewed, will just be thrown out, this is no big deal. And sex is not a big deal to us.”

Jerry, therefore, harps on the “trust” the partners have for each other. “Sometimes some people try to ruin our relationship, but I still believe what my partner says and not the others. So what we have works.”

THE THIRD WHEEL

theinfidel started becoming a third wheel to many (aside from the non-couple organized group sex he had) “back in college – that was 2005. I expected just one guy to be in this meeting place, only to find out that he has a partner. So we did it threeway.” He admitted feeling “uncomfortable at first, but I knew they wanted it, and I was starting to enjoy it, so what the heck!”

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In such arrangements, what for him was the appeal? “When they all go down at you. Body worship. Sex is basically powertripping at times.”

theinfidel added: “In group sex, the body emerges as the main pleasure maker, pleasure recipient and pleasure giver. The dichotomy of the body and the heart becomes clearer. Attachments aren’t required. I love that. There’s a clear delineation between what is romantic and what is purely libido. Basically, it’s the feeling that nobody gives a damn about who you are and where you’re from – you’re in. Sex should be in a way democratic.”

Jerry and Bruno look forward to “having our own house where we can live together, and maybe even get married,” Jerry said. As for closing the relationship, “eventually, when we got older, we can decide to stop having sex with others. Time is too early to decide, though.”

In past experiences, the rules he noted to exits in such arrangements are easy to remember. “Basically bed roles. Who’s top, who’s bottom. Who’s the psycho bitch. Who I shouldn’t touch. That’s all.”

theinfidel is a top, but he keeps an open mind. “Limitation is basically relative from one encounter to another.”

And no, finding couples to have sex with is not that hard, he said. “Should I begin counting? Because I can’t keep track of everybody who’s into it.”

TAKING A BITE

theinfidel acknowledges that reactions against open relationships – or wanton sex, for that matter – is “a culture thing,” he said. But “you just need to let your grandma watch Shortbus six times a day for a year, and she won’t give a damn after. Also, sex is a private thing, I don’t think cultural issues invade as much. It’s the archetypal apple of Eden, taking a bite when no one’s looking. And that’s when we are most free.”

If people have something negative to say about their arrangement, Alex said that “they should just shut their mouths. Kung pag-iisipan man kami ng masama, probleman nila ‘yun. We don’t mind. After all, kami naman ang nasa sitwasyon eh, hindi naman sila, so wala sila pakialam sa trip namin. Kami naman ang nagmamahalan eh, at kami naman ang may gusto nito. And most of all, wala naman kaming tinatapakan na ibang tao… kung gusto nila, try na lang din nila. Experience din ‘yan.”

As for Andy, those who look bad on those in open relationships “just don’t know how to have someone who they could trust deeply,” he said. Their reactions could therefore be borne out of jealousy. And while “having an open relationship is not necessarily recommended, make it an option.”

Jerry and Bruno look forward to “having our own house where we can live together, and maybe even get married,” Jerry said. As for closing the relationship, “eventually, when we got older, we can decide to stop having sex with others. Time is too early to decide, though.”

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And yes, Jerry considers opening relationships as something worth considering.

“For me, I want to recommend this to others if they want to have a long lasting relationship. As I said before, most people are insatiable especially with regards to sex. So being honest and open, means you have nothing to worry about your partner. No suspicions, no lies, no jealousies,” he said. “And isn’t that what kind of relationship we all want to have?”

*NAMES CHANGED AS REQUESTED BY THE INTERVIEWEES TO PROTECT THEIR PRIVACY

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