For the New Year, A Queer Guide to Open Relationships for Every Couple | Lifestyle.INQ

OCTOBER 27, 2022

A few years ago, I met my therapist over a virtual session to discuss my existential struggles, which mainly was: Why was I sad? I had no reason to be, except there were days when I would wake up and dread the day ahead. The strange thing about this sadness was how palpable it was and yet also so distant–as if I was both the person experiencing it while also being a stranger watching it from afar. 

Around that time, I had just come out of a relationship, and while I was mourning the end of the affair, I was also excited about the promise of a fresh start. The sadness, though, felt larger than my newly-found singlehood. The feelings that swelled in me were hard to box, but my therapist was quick to offer an answer for my problems. 

He said that adulthood was a set of goalposts: building a career, finding a partner, starting a family, and so on. My existential struggle was aligned with what people my age felt as they tried to tick off these boxes. 

The session frustrated me a lot. We often say that queer people like us are often pressured to succumb to the rules set out by society. That moment was an example. 

Queer lives are measured against the standards set out by cishet folks. Because our experiences are just intrinsically different from theirs (whether by birth or because of how they structured society–the lack of marriage equality in The Philippines, for one, would mean we wouldn’t have a legally-recognized partnership), we will always fail at this game. 

As the new year offers a chance to reimagine what a good life could be, here’s a thought that’s been racing in my mind: What if we rewrite the rules of the game? And we can start with the one thing where queer people are judged the most: our relationships. 

Society has made us believe that there’s one way to do relationships: the fairytale monogamous type–one person, for the rest of your life, until death. It is strange when you think about it: the idea of binding yourself to a person unconditionally presents a number of potentially abusive situations. Not only that, it denies that people aren’t static characters incapable of growth, and it also leaves no room to renegotiate their relationships. 

When cishet people admit that they’re crumbling under the weight of monogamy, maybe it’s about time to ask: Do LGBT+ (and even cishet) people have to believe monogamy is the only option—especially when there are couples from our community who are thriving beyond it? 

Jox, 29 years old, and Miggy, 26, were two years into their five-year relationship when they decided to open it up to other partners.

“One of the reasons why we started an open relationship in the first place is because we both strayed during our first couple of months together. We both thought we were both after monogamy, and that was the only way,” Miggy shared in a Zoom call. “We broke up, we got together, those urges didn’t really leave, and I don’t think either of us really wants to fix that part of our personal, sexual lives.” 

Nung nag-break kami, nag-usap kami na the only way the relationship would survive is kung maging open kami. Tas parang ayaw ko pa nung umpisa (When we broke up, we talked that only way the relationship would survive is if we become open but I didn’t like it at first),” Jox said. 

“Never pa ako nag-open ng relationship, so parang ang weird sa akin. Nung time na yun, iniisip ko na pag in-open up yung relationship namin, then may ibang parties na, parang feel ko na maguguluhan ka na, what if ma-in love ka sa ibang tao? Pero narealize ko na in the long run, na nagwo-work siya kasi sure ka na (I’ve never had an open relationship, so it was weird for me. At that time, I was thinking that if we went into an open relationship, then there would be other parties, I felt that you would get confused, what if you fall in love with someone else? But I realized that in the long run, it would work out because you’re sure already). ” 

Meanwhile, Ed, 39, and Rafa, 60, partners for fifteen years, opened their relationship into their fifth year. Being Ed’s senior, Rafa wanted an open relationship right at the beginning to allow Ed the freedom to explore other partners. Still, Ed hesitated, having been in an unsuccessful open relationship before. 

Eventually, Ed changed his mind, and for the better: “My sexuality blossomed even more in our relationship.” 

“We didn’t have a boring sex life. It wasn’t because of that. It was because it was exciting to me, and it made sense to him as well,” Rafa explained, noting: 

“No relationship should be a prison for anyone.” 

Gian, 29, experienced his first open relationship when he and a former partner were forced into a long-distance setup. He told his current partner (now of more than two years) when they were still dating that he wanted them to be open. Since then, it has been the default for him. 

“I think I figured out quite early that sex for me was a way to connect with other people, form friendships, and have good connections with people that in a monogamous relationship you couldn’t have. I made it clear upfront to most of the people I dated that’s just how I defined it: if you’re not comfortable with that, nothing about you, but we couldn’t be in a relationship.” 

He questions why sexual exclusivity should be part of the terms of a relationship: 

“Why does commitment have anything to do with sex? What is the relationship between commitment and sex? No monogamous person can define that for me. Why is sex in the realm of something that only needs to be for one person? 

“If you really dig deep into it, why is that the case? Because you’ve been conditioned to think that sex only needs to be for one person. Because society has taught you that the only way of showing love to somebody is to have exclusive sex with them, right? To me, commitment and sex don’t really have anything to do with each other. 

“To me, that’s control––that’s not commitment.” 

Open relationships allowed Miggy and Jox to open themselves up, not just sexually but emotionally. 

“It made it easier for me to open up about other things, like emotional stuff, stuff about my family, stuff like that…It helps with being vulnerable. It helps with being honest overall, even beyond what you want in the bedroom,” Miggy said. 

“It lessens all that unnecessary drama of the relationship. It relaxes the atmosphere a little bit without loosening the ties,” Rafa said, to which Ed agreed, saying: 

“It kind of cemented our relationship. It made it more relaxed because it’s more open. There’s nothing to be shy about.” 

Open relationships also meant reconfiguring what commitment means beyond the traditional definition for the couples. 

“People think that just because you committed your sex life to somebody, fifty percent of the work of the relationship is done; that’s why they don’t put effort into everything else. In fact, if I take sex out of the equation, I’m making up for it in other aspects of the relationship,” Gian observed. 

Rafa says he defines cheating not as sleeping with someone else but being dishonest: “Cheating would be to lie, blatantly lie and hide things.” 

No-holds-barred conversations were important for all the couples: the key to the success of their open relationships. 

“Rule number one: everything had to be communicated. You need to tell me everything. Because if you didn’t, that’s cheating to me,” Gian said. 

“You can’t just fuck around and then say we’re in an open relationship. That’s not how it works. An open relationship actually requires more effort on somebody’s part for it to be maintained. We actually have to talk about it. We have to tell each other what we’re doing. It’s not the same for everyone, but that’s how I define it. 

“The worst thing you can do in any relationship, open or monogamous, is to not communicate. And I think being in an open relationship helped us to communicate better because it’s trickier.”

“What destroys everything is deceit. Better to be brutally frank now, and learn to find the humor and sensibility, rather than lie and hurt the feelings of the one you love,” Rafa said. 

“Ang cue ng open relationship is yung open. Kailangan mong maging open para maging open relationship,” Jox said. 

But they all agree it’s not a solution to all relationship problems, nor will it work for everybody. 

“I had a friend who asked us about open relationships because he was having troubles with his partner. That’s usually a telltale sign that if it arises out of a problem, and you want to open the relationship to try and save the relationship, it’s usually not going to work,” Miggy shared. 

“Even though that’s exactly what we did, I also understand that more often than not, I would say 90% of the time, the moment that someone brings up, like, ‘Oh hey, can we open the relationship,’ that’s a point of no return. As soon as a person brings that up, it already means that there’s something that’s missing in the relationship, and you either step up to it or admit that you can’t fulfill that person’s needs. One of the biggest cons is that it’s a life-or-death thing for your relationship––even just bringing it up.” 

“I don’t think an open relationship works for everyone,” Gian admitted. “But if it’s something that is important to you, the first thing obviously is you have to be open…You’re open about your feelings. You’re open about how things make you feel and how exploring things with them rather than away from them is good for the relationship. The openness is there in you talking about things. You share things with each other. If that’s something that comes easy to somebody, then it might work better.” 

Hindi ko siya nirerecommend agad. Hindi siya parang, mag-open relationship tayo dahil cool siya, dahil fun siya. Hindi siya gagawin dahil nakita n’yo siya at gusto niyong i-try (I don’t recommend it immediately. It’s like being in an open relationship is to be cool or because it’s fun. Don’t do it because you just saw it and you want to just try it),” Jox advised. “Hindi siya magwo-work kung hindi pa kayo ready. Kailangang ma-establish n’yo muna sa isa’t-isa na sobrang okay na kayo to open up with each other (It won’t work out if you’re not ready. You need to establish to each other that you’re okay together to open up with each other).” 

They acknowledge that judgment from society will always be present. 

“To people who are very [closed minded], it presents itself as a problem. But to people who are open-minded and worldly and very non-judgmental and understanding of humanity, it presents itself as wonderful,” Rafa said. 

Miggy recounted: “When I told my family about it, they didn’t understand, and I was like, that’s fine, you literally don’t have to understand the same way you have to understand that I’m a queer person. If you don’t approve, that’s completely fine because I’m not forcing you to participate.” 

Maybe the new normal that the pandemic has brought to our lives could also allow us to question what paradigms we can shift–or at the very least, question. Being open to the idea that there’s no one-size-fits-all way of life could allow us to reshape our own lives and mold it into what will make us happy, beyond the expectations of a society that only pressures us to conform.


Illustration by Pammy Orlina

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