Ethical non-monogamy relationship: What it is and can it be done?

(PHOTO: Getty Images)
(PHOTO: Getty Images)

Welcome to A Millennial's Dating Diary series, where we explore real-life interactions and the hurdles of dating in Southeast Asia. The series will feature the dating stories and misadventures of Arika – a 26-year-old, straight female marketing manager with a penchant for over drinking — and fellow millennials.

While it might not be the default mode of operation for most people when it comes to relationships, the concept of ethical non-monogamy — or ENM for short — is definitely becoming more mainstream than it’s ever been before.

In recent years, shows like You, Me, Her, Wanderlust, and Trigonometry have all popped up, demonstrating a certain demand and interest for such content on mainstream media.

On dating apps like Tinder and OKCupid, I’ve seen more men indicate that they’re in open relationships or an ethical non-monogamous situation with their partners. Some go as far as to suggest that they’re aromantic or just looking for sex.

Apps like Feeld and online communities like r/threesomes, r/swingers, and more exist on Reddit for like-minded individuals to connect, and eventually meet up.

ENM — for the uninitiated — is an umbrella term that describes different styles of non-monogamous relationships. Regardless of whether it’s in an open relationship to polyamory, and even throuples, ENMs have one thing in common: they’re all consensual.

This means that everyone involved in an ENM relationship is aware of their situation and agreed on the arrangements.

While on Tinder, I recently matched with *Zack, 30, an editor working in the publishing industry. On his profile, Zack indicated that he’s in an ENM and was looking for something purely sexual.

Sensing my curiosity, Zack explained how his relationship with *Chloe, 28 worked, and how the couple navigated around a non-conventional relationship.

“Chloe and I have been together for five years. When we started dating, I knew she was bisexual. We eventually agreed on having some type of open relationship because she wanted to explore the possibility of sleeping with a woman,” he shared with me on Tinder.

“Eventually, I also decided to get on dating apps just as a way of meeting new people, making friends, and possibly finding a more casual connection. However, I’m not looking for anything romantic or serious, so I felt it was necessary to be completely honest about this on my profile,” he further added.

When I asked about how they navigated situations like jealousy, Zack shared the couple have a long list of hard boundaries they should never cross.

“One of them is that we can never fall in love with the people we’re seeing, and if we do, we have to be upfront about it,” he explained. Other things on the list include having dedicated date nights in the week. “We see each other at least thrice a week. It’s non-negotiable.”

For some people, ENM relationships might not involve that much sex either.

Couple, Romantic, Dinner, Togetherness, Holiday
(PHOTO: Getty Images)

*Katie, 33, who is currently single but has dated several men in ENM relationships, says that ENMs don’t always have to be purely sexual. “Sometimes, they just want someone different from their primary partner, even though they love them so much.”

Katie usually meets these men for dates and companionship. “We usually do dinner and drinks; sometimes I end up sleeping with them, sometimes I don’t. But, it’s all good!”

Recently, I’ve been thinking a little bit more about the possibility of being in an ENM relationship with the guy I’ve been seeing, *Mark, 30.

Up till recently, my relationship with Mark has been working out pretty well. In essence, we’ve both been able to have our cakes and eat them too. We’ve been able to see and sleep with other people casually and still come home to a loving and respectable relationship with each other because we’re only emotionally connected.

Admittedly though, the anxiety and jealousy I’ve felt over the girls he’s been seeing have in some ways caused us certain issues.

Young men using mobile phone. Business, communication, technology concept
(PHOTO: Getty Images)

My main concern? That he’d develop feelings for someone he was seeing and sleeping with more regularly — even if he tells me he’s told them about me and our relationship. My jealousy has ultimately led me to overthink our relationship quite a bit, and whether the mental anguish I’ve been facing after conjuring up images in my head about what he’s been up to with other women has been worth it.

To be fair, though, Mark and I have also discussed that we might turn our relationship into something more exclusive and monogamous because we’ve been growing closer.

Heck, we might even be travelling during the pandemic to visit his parents in Europe — if this doesn’t bring us closer and sort of solidifying what we have, I’m not sure what would.

This leads me to wonder if I could actually have an ENM relationship if I’m behaving like a jealous and controlling person all the time right now.

Truth be told, Mark and I are still figuring out what we want to do with our relationship and haven’t quite decided on something concrete at the moment. In response to whether an ENM relationship could work? Perhaps check back on this space when Mark and I have decided on what we’re going to do.

*Names have been changed to protect their identity