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Third Wheelin’

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Dear 4-Way,
I recently met a guy with whom I instantly clicked. We met at a bar and had a great night of interesting and fun conversation. Though nothing too physical happened (we did have a steamy goodnight kiss at the end of the night), it was clear that we both had a physical attraction to one another as well as an intellectual one. He got my number and called me within a few days. Turns out, he has a girlfriend; he was very up-front with this information and explained that, while they love each other, they have an open relationship to help keep their spark alive. They agreed that each of them could have relationships (physical and otherwise) with other people as long as they are safe and respectful. He says they both just see one other person at a time and he’s interested in seeing where our connection goes. It feels so untraditional, but I don’t know that that’s a bad thing. Am I crazy for considering this? —ND, Brooklyn, New York

The Straight Woman’s Perspective: Rebecca Brown
Maybe it’s a result of living in hippie-dippie-liberal San Francisco for ten years, but I think I’m at the point in my life where nothing surprises me anymore. Swingers? Seen it. Sex clubs? Passé. Dating someone who gets married to someone else while you’re dating him? Lived it. So maybe I’m the crazy one for not thinking this whole open relationship business is cru-frickin’-sazy crazy—provided that everyone’s on the same page. And I do mean everyone, which, of course includes your Mr. Magic’s supposedly permissive girlfriend.

A few thoughts: First, I’d get the girlfriend on the horn or meet her in person to discuss, if she’s comfortable with that. You don’t need to dig deep into her childhood to find out why this particular setup meets her needs, but you do need to confirm that she agrees to this and that she’s okay with you and Magic having a physically intimate relationship, and you need to hear all that from her, not him.

Next, talk to Magic and get a sense of how this has gone down with other women before. Will this be a strictly physical relationship? Or will you also be sharing things like hopes and dreams, good days and bad days, Kant’s ethical and moral theories, and other titillating intellectual topics? Get your expectations straight before you delve into this so there are as few surprises as possible.

If all that sits well with you, then … have yourself an open relationship, ND. Say yes to a life opportunity, as the hippie-dippie types say, and see what happens. I’ve never (knowingly) been in such a relationship, but I’ve been thinking lately about how one person can’t possibly satisfy another’s every single need. Maybe it can work; maybe it’s not so crazy. I don’t know. And you won’t either until you try, so go for it.

The Lesbian Woman’s Perspective: Jody Fischer
My dear, I’m all for breaking with tradition, yet I’m not sure that’s what you’re really asking about here. I think there are a few things for you to consider before you decide to be this man’s other lady:

Are you comfortable with the fact that he has a partner? Is she a live-in partner?

Will you constantly be focusing on what he’s doing with her when the two of you aren’t together?

Are you actually looking for a non-exclusive relationship?

There are also some possible red flags here that I would want to address before proceeding:

Why did he wait until after you kissed in the bar to tell you he had a girlfriend and about his arrangement with her?

I would want to check in with the girlfriend, or if you don’t want to meet her, talk to another friend of his to verify the story.

I know many people who are quite comfortable in polyamorous relationships, but I’m not one of them. The fact that you’re even considering seeing this guy tells me that you may be okay with the arrangement. Ask him the questions and if you can live with his answers, have fun. If not, go find your one-woman man.

The Straight Man’s Perspective: Chris Kennedy
Do you want an open relationship? Because that’s what this would be for you, too. It’s not like you’re going to get him exclusively, either.

I agree it’s untraditional; I will also add “unreliable” and “unacceptable” to that. Obviously, I don’t believe in open relationships.

I think this guy is playing you. Think about it. He has a built-in excuse not to see you whenever he wants: his girlfriend. Maybe he does have an open relationship with this alleged girlfriend and maybe he doesn’t. But when he wants to have fun with you without any expectations, he can play that card, because he told you from the very beginning his relationship was open and you agreed to it.

Don’t mistake his acting up-front about his infidelity as his being overly admirable. Being loyal is admirable, cheating isn’t. He may be honest, but only about being noncommittal.

You’re not necessarily crazy to consider it. Hey, it came up, so it’s worth a look. However, you are crazy to start a relationship with this guy. It’s bringing the drama, mama. If you’re okay with entertaining absolutely zero expectations of having any future with this guy, give this situation a try. But be very open with him about your desire to avoid any kind of relationship here.

The Gay Man’s Perspective: Darren Maddox
No, you’re not crazy for considering this, but make sure you know what you’re getting into. He already has a girlfriend and he’s looking to play around on the side. That’s what an open relationship is. If you’re up for that, and if you think you can keep your feelings out of the way, then go for it. If you’re really serious about trying this out, tell him you’d be up for it, but that you’d like to make sure his girlfriend is good with it as well. He’ll show his true colors then and either give you a phone number or tell you there’s no way in hell you can talk to her about it. If the former happens, dial her up, chat about it, get the rest of the story. If nothing else, consider it research for future dates. If he won’t let you call her, find out why. My guess in that situation is that he’s probably not being as open with her as he’d like you to believe.

I know many people who do all sorts of things these days to keep the spark alive in their relationship. If an open relationship is their thing, then that’s their thing. Just think about whether or not your being the third person in a relationship is your thing. Once you sort through that, you’ll be good to go.

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