Why Do Men Claim To Want Open Relationships More Than Women?
And, in long term relationships, why does this trend seem to reverse?
I met a girl, we had a real connection and a wonderful first few dates. Then when I asked her to be in an open relationship she ghosted me!
That sucks, I said, she could have asked you for a closed relationship, or at least texted that she wasn’t interested any more.
I know, right!
I had this conversation with a male tinder date, about one of his other tinder dates. And it’s like, sort of familiar. Many of my male friends/potential sexual partners sort of express a wistfulness for open relationships. Often, a very particular type of open relationship. Why can’t we just be friends, they ask, who have sex sometimes but don’t try to make it more than just that?
Women don’t really ask this question. According to some survey, women on average are more opposed to the idea of open relationships than men are, and you can see this play out by sexual orientation. It’s hard to find reliable statistics on this that aren’t biassed but… uh, at least in SF, the gay male scene seems way more amenable to hookup culture than the lesbian scene.
This puts me in an interesting spot, because I am a woman who has been fairly committed to the idea of non-monogamy for a while, but my reasons seem very different from those of my male partners. I first considered being non-monogamous when I was about 14 years old and had just watched a documentary on human mating. Basically, what the documentary argued, was that people would continue to be attracted to other people even when they got in a relationship with someone and we can see this play out historically with DNA evidence.
This was very upsetting to my 14 year old self. I could never be everything to someone. No matter what, anyone I dated would continue to be attracted to other people, it could never be just me. And yet, I couldn’t deny that I had multiple attractions myself. I could have many crushes at once, and when I was dating one person I would often find other people cute, etc. But one of my personal ideals, even then, was was a commitment to accepting the truth of what we as humans were. If we, as humans, aren’t naturally monogamous — even if that truth is painful for me to see — I wanted to find a way to accept it.
Shortly after this, I started fooling around with this guy who had a crush on me for ages. He asked me if I minded if he started hooking up with this other girl as well, and truthfully I did mind, but I didn’t tell him that. I told him “sure, that’s no problem.” I wanted not to mind. I wanted to be able to accept these multiple attractions which I believed were part of human nature.
He started dating her, and forgot about me. I was heartbroken. I cried about it daily for months, but ultimately I moved on. Soon I started dating someone myself — monogamously this time — and shortly after my old crush started being interested in me again.
Once I told my old crush “my boyfriend doesn’t like me hanging out with you because he thinks you’re trying to win me back,” and he responded “he’s absolutely right.”
But I didn’t go back.
This pattern has repeated itself throughout my life. On several occasions, I have been fooling around with men, they get highly invested in another woman and drop me. Then, weeks, months, years later they come back and try to get back together with me. And I always say no.
I can almost hear my male friends groaning. What’s the big deal? Why is it so wrong to start and stop sexual relationships?
It’s not wrong. However, if you want to be friends who fuck, you have to treat me like a friend first. Let’s take another analogy — let’s say instead of sex, me and my bestie Sarah have a standing date to go to the movies every Thursday.
One day, Sarah says to me “Hey Emma — I think I’d rather start seeing movies on Thursday with Caroline. She just has much more similar taste in movies to me than you do.”
Truthfully, I’d probably be hurt by that and somewhat jealous, but I’d also get over it. However, Sarah would probably need to spend some extra time with me to rebuild our friendship. Maybe we’d start knitting together on Sundays or something. If she just dropped me when she started going to the movies with Caroline, well, we wouldn’t stay friends for very long.
This is where the “friends with benefit” dudes generally fuck up. Yeah, sex is an on-or-off-the-table negotiable with my friends, but if you’re only my friend because you want to fuck me, well, you’re not really my friend. And this is what really gets my goat about the whole thing, many men who I know who are “into” non-monogamy are actually playing by the rules of monogamy. What they really want is to avoid emotionally investing in me as a person until they know if I’m “the one.” And, they’ll claim they’re not really holding out for “the one,” but they are. So often what “non monogamous” men are practically doing is “keeping their options open.”
I’ve also simplified this into “fucking” but — that’s is an oversimplification. Truthfully, I’ve actually had some version of this happen several times without sex and it pisses me off just as much. Many times men will be very emotionally open and communicative with me and, basically, sort of use me as an emotional girlfriend. Then, they’ll get a real girlfriend and our relationship will go out the window, and I’ll realize oh, you didn’t want to be my friend at all.
Which sort of brings up the question, why do I care about being friends with my sex partners at all?
This is a tough one, as I have enjoyed a few one night stands with people who I didn’t end up having long term friendships with. But, those were always sort of silly, or goofy in a way. In a good way. They were fun, but very lighthearted.
I guess, at the end of the day, if I do anything with someone regularly, but especially sex, I’ll probably fall in love with them. Which is fine. My friends and I regularly tell each other that we love each other. I love the people I go to Zen with. I love a lot of people. But, once I love someone, I probably want them in my life.
Not everyone is as down with casually loving this way, and that makes sense. It is painful. Loving lots of people is necessarily painful, because every person you love you will one day lose. But, I believe it’s worth it.
I think many men get around this by not emotionally investing in their sexual partners, and I’m not really interested in being with those men. I also don’t think this is a “natural” state for men. I think this is a manifestation of the long standing emotional repression of men in our society. Ironically, while more men claim to be open to non-monogamous relationships and while they seem more down in the early stages, in established relationships there’s evidence that women suggest opening up the relationship more.
Men and women have different types of work to do to go against the monogamous cultural storyline, and for women the work comes up front while for men the work comes down the line. “The marriage” myth comes up quickly for women because historically women have needed to tie up a man to secure access to resources. This is no longer true, but the cultural narrative around love is still based in this. Learning to tolerate your partner fooling around with other people early on is likely to be triggering for women because we emphasize that if a man really liked you, he would commit to you. Yet, my experience with the number of men who have tried to win me back after not choosing me initially suggests that this is not the case. Of course, fear of abandonment can and does frequently come up later in relationships as well. Women, I think, are less likely to want open relationships when they don’t have a secure “base.” However, when they do feel secure, many will be curious about experimenting.
For men, on the other hand, learning to express emotions that are not socially acceptable is probably the hurdle. Being open about when they feel jealousy, for instance, I think tends to be very hard for men. Most men will claim that they “don’t” feel jealous, or “shouldn’t” feel jealous. This reluctance to express emotion is ok before (or, when they are avoiding) emotional investment, but becomes a problem later on. If men can’t express when they feel jealous, for instance, it will impossible for his partner to adjust their behavior to accommodate him. As soon as they begin to care deeply about someone, many men will retreat into the safety of monogamy because they can get their needs met without having to be open about their emotions. Culturally we’ve structured monogamy was designed to meet basic needs people are likely to have, especially men, but it comes at a price. If you’re willing to pay the price, that’s cool.
For me personally, I am willing to use a friendship as a “secure base” to be non-monogamous from, but a lot of men are uncomfortable going there. To even care about me as a good friend is triggering for them. I find discussions around non-monogamy with men a lot more frustrating than discussions around it with my ex-girlfriend, for instance. My ex and I seemed to be on very similar pages, and even after our breakup, we were comfortable telling each other things like “I feel jealous when you talk about the new person you’re dating.” This was how we transitioned from girlfriends into friends. And, I still think she’s fantastic! In fact, I told her that earlier today.
Men who are casually sleeping with me rarely tell me they care about me. And, frankly, I’m kind of over it.