Open Relationship Stories: Tales of Success, Jealousy & Failure

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It seems like a successful open relationship is like a unicorn – you have heard about their existence but have never actually seen a real one, as the horses you mistake for the mythical creature are just really good at pretending.

This metaphor is actually much better than I am letting on. Here is the definition of a unicorn from the highly reliable source, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them from the Hogwarts library, which has been slightly adapted to fit the description of this other fabled being:
Successful Open Relationship: The [successful open relationship] is a beautiful [enigma] found throughout the [colleges] of northern [America]. It is pure [emotionless sex], [complicated] when fully grown, though the [agreements between the two people] are initially golden, and turn [jealous] before achieving maturity. The [sex lives of the two involved] all have highly magical properties. It generally [thrives on] human contact, is more likely to allow a [college guy] to approach it than a [college girl], and is so [fraught with jealousy, complications, and silent contempt] it is very difficult to capture.
Where am I going with this? Besides working a Harry Potter reference into a completely unrelated context, I am attempting to illustrate how seemingly impossible a successful open relationship is for the average love-torn college student. It is almost inevitable that one way or another, someone will get hurt, and the relationship will fail only a few months later than it otherwise would have if a break-up had initially been suggested instead of an open relationship.
An open relationship, as defined by college students across America, is an agreement between a couple who has decided certain sexual needs can be indulged through another person because they are unsatisfied with the monotony of monogamy. In most instances, an open relationship is the result of a long-distance couple (usually attending two different colleges) that has started to miss the benefits of physical companionship but does not want to break-up. Sometimes people agree to open the relationship in order to prevent future boredom and subsequent resentment.

Of course, not all open relationships involve a person at home and a person at school. For example, some senior couples decide that during the last week of college their exclusivity is lifted as a last chance to hook-up with all of the people in their class whom they have always secretly had a crush on. But the reason why a successful open relationship seems so difficult to achieve is because removing the emotional from the physical is an extremely hard process for many college students – thus, making its true existence similar to that of a unicorn. Meredyth Merrow, a rising senior at Gettysburg College, interprets the idea of an open relationship as having your cake and eating it too: “The entire idea of an open relationship is that you have the best of both worlds. You have the comfort of a boyfriend to sleep with when you are at home and the freedom to sleep around wherever else in the world you are. You have someone at home and you have someone at school; you want to be able to do the college thing and you want to have someone at home.”
Meredyth concluded, “If you care about someone enough to date them, you shouldn’t have sex with other people. It’s that easy. Being in an open relationship is like friends with benefits, there is no difference really… the fact that there is an option on Facebook for it is really disconcerting.”
Katey McCabe, a rising senior at Case Western Reserve, felt similarly: “If you need to sleep with other people, then clearly you are not mature enough to handle serious commitment.”

After surveying many different college students, both guys and girls, the majority concluded that open relationships are just not a good idea. A couple is either exclusive or simply friends with benefits – there is no in between, and when you label your relationship as “open” it is because you are too scared to permanently end your relationship and lose the sense of security that comes with it.


About The Author

Joanna Buffum is a senior English major and Anthropology minor at Bowdoin College in Brunswick, Maine.  She is from Morristown, NJ and in the summer of 2009 she was an advertising intern for OK! Magazine and the editorial blog intern for Zagat Survey in New York City. This past summer she was an editorial intern for MTV World's music website called MTV Iggy, writing fun things like album and concert reviews for bands you have never heard of before. Her favorite books are basically anything involving fantasy fiction, especially the Harry Potter series and “Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell” by Susanna Clarke. In her free time she enjoys snowboarding, playing intramural field hockey, watching House MD, and making paninis. In the spring of 2010 she studied abroad in Copenhagen, Denmark, and she misses the friendly, tall, and unusually attractive Danish people more than she can say. After college, she plans on pursuing a career in writing, but it can be anywhere from television script writing, to magazine journalism, to book publishing.