Savvy Minds: Ask Dr. V ~ “I Don’t Want an Open Relationship”
My boyfriend of the last four months has been nagging me about us having an “open relationship,” meaning he gets to sleep around. I’m totally not OK with this, it feels wrong to me, and I don’t feel like I could “take advantage of the arrangement too” as he’s suggested. I have no desire to. I care a lot about this guy, other than this issue things are going OK with us. He says there’s scientific proof that people aren’t supposed to be monogamous, and that we cause all kinds of problems by forcing ourselves to be. Should I just ignore what my heart’s telling me and give this a try? I’ve been wrong before. Am I being a prude?
Let’s start with your question, “Should I ignore what my heart’s telling me?”
NO. NO. NO.
And in addition, NO.
You should never second-guess something that you feel so sure of, especially when it comes to relationships. This doesn’t mean acting rashly or reacting from a place of emotional volatility. Rather, it means acknowledging the emotion or message and from there, trying to parse out what the best thing for you to do is.
As far as what your boyfriend is telling you about there being scientific evidence for monogamy not being natural, well… that is true. But I think he may presenting and perceiving the facts in a way that supports something completely unrelated that he wants to be true: having a carte blanche to “sleep around” as you put it, without having to worry about you getting upset about it.
But first, a brief discussion of the facts. Yes, it has come to light relatively recently (particularly in a book called Sex at Dawn that I highly recommend) that human beings may not be biologically inclined to monogamy. We’re also not biologically inclined to drive cars, use the Internet or take antibiotics when we’re sick, but that doesn’t stop us from doing those things. This is because unlike our non-human companions on the planet, we have developed a complex way of life as a result of social and technological developments. When human beings hung around in groups of roughly 150 or so people, spent two hours a day hunting and gathering and the rest of the time, well, what we modern folks would call “slacking off,” the concepts of marriage, paternity, monogamy, private property… well they hadn’t really developed yet. So, much like our bonobo chimpanzee cousins, we existed in what might resemble to some a hedonist love-fest where just about everybody made love to everybody and responsibilities for survival were shared equally. You could also die from a toothache because without modern dentistry, the infection would rot through the skull and reach your brain.
The point is, very deep, primal aspects of our sexual biology have not caught up to the modern life we lead. This doesn’t mean we should chuck the idea of a committed relationship or monogamy, but rather gives us a basis for understanding the power and cause of certain drives and urges. This means it’s OK for both of you to acknowledge you find other people besides your mate attractive, even letting fantasies play out in your head is OK; provided of course that they remain fantasies. This means more than just grumbling “But I know I’m not allowed to do that” to yourself. It means realizing that despite a physical attraction for an individual, we’re able to recognize that the relationship we’ve built with our partner is something unique and irreplaceable, and that while the urges to spread our genetic material around as much as possible may be calling to us from the deepest parts of DNA, our highly evolved hearts and minds are refined and sharp enough to realize that the urge is just that, an urge. Not a command.
Hopefully that could give you a starting point to discuss this stuff with your boyfriend. As is often the case, I have a feeling that this may just be a superficial obstacle indicative of something deeper and more substantial that needs to be resolved, either between you two or perhaps just your boyfriend. It could be that what’s really eating at him is (ironically enough) a fear of intimacy, in that if he may feel that if he doesn’t give himself entirely to you then he still holds some measure of emotional control or protection for himself. Or, it could be a fear of commitment, which may stem from the same insecurity around getting hurt.
Or he could just be a horny guy who needs to move his brain above his belt.
Regardless, the only way to resolve this one way or another is through discussing it. Bear in mind that if he’s already feeling insecure or threatened (perhaps even by the idea of being in a relationship itself, more than you as a person), you may need to take a soft, gentle approach with him. Be kind, understanding and empathetic. The best way to do this is to assume, until you’ve got undeniable proof to the contrary, that he really does want to be in a committed relationship with you, and is just having some problems sorting through his own emotional hang-ups.
Needless to say, if conversations are fruitless and he insists on fighting for his right to party with multiple partners and you’re not OK with it, I suggest hopping the next train out of the relationship. You’re someone who is willing to commit and put the effort in required to create a healthy relationship, and you deserve nothing less in return.
With Love and Light,
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