“My boyfriend and I have been discussing marriage. He says he wants to marry me but doesn’t want to be limited to having sex with one woman forever. He asked me if I would consider parameters for him to mess around, like on his birthday or other special occasions. He doesn’t want me to do the same. I’m not totally against it.
“The exact terms—the frequency of the ‘passes,’ the consequences for additional violations—are something he and I are trying to work out. I see this often with celebs, but I’m curious about whether you’ve seen this work for everyday couples.
“Also, I would like to clarify, I’m not that pressed to get married, just simply thinking and discussing what my potential marriage would look like. Does this work for couples ever?”—Anonymous
I’m going to applaud you and your boyfriend for discussing what your expectations are for a marriage before you move forward. I’ve always been alarmed by the number of people who don’t talk about it, make assumptions about their partner’s outlook or think that marriage is a magical “happily ever after” that requires no work. It does explain the divorce rate, though, doesn’t it?
There’s no one way to make a marriage work, and you and your boyfriend are entitled to do your marriage however you like. But as you consider the terms he’s set forth, I’d also like you to consider some things you may not have thought about while caught up in your bubble of love.
The glaring issue with what he’s proposed is that it is grossly unfair, in that it benefits only him. I’m not so much a fan of open relationships, but people have them all the time, and they say they are happy. But in all the cases I’ve heard of, it wasn’t the one-way street your man suggested. Both partners were able to enjoy the benefits of an open relationship.
The expectation that you should be committed to him all the time, while he’s committed to you on nonspecial occasions, isn’t OK. If he get the “passes” you speak of, you should have a set of your own.
But maybe you don’t want any “passes”; you just want him. That’s cool, but I don’t think you’ve really considered the full repercussions of what you’re “not totally against.”
Whatever your stance is on “passes” or “cheating,” do understand that even if you are sexually monogamous, if your partner is not, you’re still at risk for sexually transmitted infections, including HIV.
Although everyone likes to focus on the joys of sex, the act can also come with some unintended consequences. You may give your could-be husband a pass to cheat, but how will you know if he uses condoms with his side boo? Are you OK with the possibility of catching a STD, even a curable one? What if it’s herpes? What if it’s HIV? Are you going to use condoms with your husband to protect yourself from whatever he’s exposed to on his “pass” days? How often do you plan to take HIV tests to make sure you’re healthy? Will your husband take them regularly, too?
Say that one of his flings gets pregnant. Will you and your husband pay for an abortion? What if she wants to keep the child? Are you going to help him raise the kid? Are you OK with money from your home going to the new child? Will you raise your children with your husband and any children from his mistresses together as one family?
On his birthday and other special days that you’re “not totally against” him spending with other women, is it OK if he has celebratory sex with you that day and then leaves to be with his mistress? You know it’s his pass day, so you know where he is. What will you do while he’s gone with her? Will you sleep comfortably? Iron his shirts? How long until you have sex with him after he’s back from his “pass”? Immediately? A week? Just curious.
If you’ve got answers to all these questions and you’re fine with these scenarios, I still can’t recommend that you take this offer. Despite what you said about not being “that pressed” to get married, it does sound as if you really want to be married to your boyfriend, and your desire to upgrade to wife is causing you to overlook some very real and messy consequences of the agreement he’s offered.
Oh, and about the celebrities you’ve mentioned: Being famous doesn’t give anyone a special insulation from the situations I described above. Men still get the “other woman” pregnant, as has been in the news lately, and fame doesn’t stop STDs. Because people in the limelight don’t speak publicly about the downsides of what are essentially open relationships, it doesn’t mean they aren’t hurt, affected or infected the same as a woman whose face isn’t on a billboard.
Demetria L. Lucas is a contributing editor at The Root, a life coach and the author of A Belle in Brooklyn: The Go-to Girl for Advice on Living Your Best Single Life and the upcoming Don’t Waste Your Pretty: The Go-to Guide for Making Smarter Decisions in Life & Love. She answers your dating and relationship questions on The Root each week. Feel free to ask anything at firstname.lastname@example.org.