When Danielle and Rich first met in Amsterdam in 2009, it was love at first sight.
“I remember looking at her and thinking, ‘I could marry this girl,’” Rich tells Yahoo Life. He did just that in 2013, and the couple welcomed their first child, a son, in 2014, followed by a daughter in 2017.
Yet Danielle and Rich’s love story, conventional as it may initially seem, has a twist: Two months into their romance, they decided to explore nonmonogamy, taking two years to decide on what rules and boundaries they wanted for their open marriage, which they soon entered into.
Then the couple took yet another step in their relationship: They decided, in February 2022, to share the details of their love story on TikTok, on which Danielle’s account now boasts more than 95,000 followers.
"I get a lot of questions about our relationship style," she explains, adding that her husband convinced her to start the TikTok account to provide answers, which she also does on her blog Open Commitment. (Still, they requested that their last names be withheld here for privacy reasons.) "When we started this 12 years ago, I didn't really have many resources. We had a book that we read and talked with people that provided some guidance, but there weren't a lot of resources. Today, you have a Reddit community and TikTok accounts that you can follow and Facebook groups in your local area."
And Danielle’s TikTok videos really took off — not surprising, given that nonmonogamy is a topic generating plenty of buzz as of late. Recent seasons of Gossip Girl, Insecure and Good Trouble have featured plots centered on open relationships. And in real life, more people are talking about their own experiences with polyamory (partaking in multiple loving relationships vs. having sex outside of an open marriage), including writer Rachel Krantz in her 2022 memoir Open: An Uncensored Memoir of Love, Liberation, and Non-Monogamy. Meanwhile, celebrities including Bella Thorne and Willow Smith have shared that they are or have been in polyamorous relationships, and Katie Couric featured a guide to open relationships on her website — something Danielle, whose mother sent her the link, was surprised to see on such a mainstream site.
But it checks out, according to a 2020 YouGov poll, which found that while more than half of American adults are married, 32% of people describe their ideal relationship as one that is nonmonogamous. Among adults in a relationship, 23% reported their current relationship is nonmonogamous to some degree, meaning there are plenty of couples who don't consider exclusive commitment vital to their relationship's success.
Psychologist Amy Moors, who has done extensive research into nonmonogamy, points out that such relationships aren't actually all that unusual in the United States — even though they may seem taboo.
"My colleagues and I at the Kinsey Institute did a nationally representative survey, and we found that 1 in 5 people have engaged in nonmonogamy at some point in their life," she says of the 2017 study. "They could have engaged in swinging or an open marriage or polyamory; there's lots of different types of relationships [that fall into that category]. But 1 out of 5 [means it is] pretty common. Put into perspective, that's as common as how many people have a pet cat."
Certified sex therapist Stefani Goerlich, author of The Leather Couch: Clinical Practice With Kinky Clients, adds that there isn't just one reason people engage in a nonmonogamous relationship. While some feel that being in love with one person exclusively feels like an "arbitrary constraint that limits their capacity for love and relationship," Goerlich says, other couples face different factors, be it a life event that “makes sexual intimacy difficult” for one partner, or simply “mixed desire” in relationships.
"It makes sense for many of these couples to create a relationship dynamic where the more sexual partner can have their needs met without pushing the nonsexual partner beyond their comfort zone,” she explains.
Danielle and Rich’s story
For Danielle and Rich, opening up their relationship was one way to make it “cheat-proof."
Rich says that he recalls feeling “boxed in” in the relationship he was in before he met Danielle, and while he never cheated, his strong feelings for his now-wife made him want to do everything possible to protect their union.
"I don't know if [cheating] would have happened," he explains. "I'd like to think I would never have done that. But a lifetime is a long time. And so, when I was thinking about it, I was like, 'OK, how do I just maximize the chance of this relationship being successful, of it lasting our whole lives?'"
Rich's friend, who introduced him to the concept of nonmonogamy, provided resources for the couple, such as The Ethical Slut: A Practical Guide to Polyamory, Open Relationships & Other Adventures by Dossie Easton and Janet Hardy. From there, it took two years of conversations about boundaries and rules before Danielle and Rich pursued outside relationships, and for 10 years, they kept those relationships mostly casual.
Since then, Danielle and Rich have taken on more serious partners (called "non-primary partners" in polyamorous parlance), while still making sure they're also protecting their marriage, or "primary relationship," with certain guidelines and boundaries. To make sure that they're being sexually safe with others, they use condoms and get tested for STIs about four times a year. Rich has had a vasectomy, and Danielle has an IUD.
The couple also makes it clear in their dating app profiles that they are married and nonmonogamous, as they do with a potential partner in person. They also have one rule that both Danielle and Rich admit is a bit controversial in the polyamorous community: their power to "veto" one another's partners. In fact, for every person on TikTok who seems shocked to hear about Danielle and Rich's relationship style, there's another who thinks they're too restrictive because of their veto rule.
"We're careful, cautious and conservative in using the veto," Danielle explains. "For example, we've never vetoed someone after a relationship started because that doesn't feel fair to that person. Other than that, we don't have rules for intimacy."
According to the couple, their kids, now 8 and 4, are too young to know the details of their open marriage, but they have met some of their partners as friends. Rich’s most recent girlfriend, who he has just split from, even vacationed with the family.
“Our goal is that our kids grow up just seeing that Mom and Dad love each other and respect each other and are really happy,” Danielle says. “[They know that there] are other people in our lives that provide a lot of love and support, not just in romantic relationships, but with our friends and family.”
Though the two started off wanting to make sure that infidelity didn’t end their relationship, they have found that exploring romantic and sexual relationships outside of their marriage has given them the opportunity to be different versions of themselves. For Rich, spending time with a non-primary partner could mean just going to a hotel to relax, but for Danielle, dating outside the marriage means exploring her adventurous side.
"I love adventure sports. I’m a ski instructor, I kitesurf, I love skydiving," Danielle says. "These are things that terrify the crap out of my husband. Being able to have these experiences with people who value them was really important to me."
Danielle says that she wants to show people what a successful nonmonogamous relationship can be like — mainly that she and Rich are happy and raising two kids together. They're currently exploring Europe in hopes of finding a new city to settle down in.
Perils of sharing on social media
Of course, that doesn't stop some commenters from criticizing the couple, claiming that their relationship "devalues" marital vows. One TikToker even dueted Danielle's positive video about her husband's then-girlfriend, claiming that her "body language" indicated she is "lying" about being happy with her marriage, and suggested that she gets the "short end" of the deal.
Rich refutes that, saying that while it's a "legitimate concern," it's also "sexist."
"It does kind of have these gender stereotypes that don't apply to an awful lot of couples," he says. "It's a little bit of a sexist idea that, like, women always want monogamy, and men always want to sleep around."
While the negative comments can occasionally push Danielle to take a TikTok break, she appreciates how the platform has allowed her to connect with people who are curious about nonmonogamy.
"I had about 20 people, 20 women in particular, reach out to me the very first week that I started doing this, asking very deep questions, like, 'How did you handle jealousy?,' 'What was it like hearing [about your partner's other relationship] for the first time?' That continues to happen weekly, and that's what helps me keep going and put up with the negativity," she explains.
As for why they and many others In nonmonogamous relationships are still met with skepticism, Moors says it has to do with how Western society has not fully embraced discussions around sexuality.
"It's not 'normal' to openly talk about sexuality," she says. “Women are still slut-shamed, that hasn't really gone away. And so I think when you have a group of people — even though they are consenting adults, [engaging in] behaviors that don't actually impact other people, I think a lot of people have a knee-jerk reaction to be like, 'Well, that's not the norm, that's not normal,' which then stigmatizes people. Similar things happened over the decades for queer people. The same things you're probably seeing as negative feedback on these TikTok accounts are probably the same things that would have been said toward queer people in the ’90s."
As for why her TikTok account has blown up so quickly, Danielle has a theory.
"I think it's because we look very normal," she says. "We are happily married. We're both somewhat attractive, but we're not movie stars. And we have two kids who are freakin' adorable, and we have a house with a dog."
Much of her audience, she believes, watches their relationship to learn about "a slightly different way of doing it that is approachable enough," which makes them "resonate with a lot of monogamous couples." On the flip side might be hate followers, she says. "I think we really piss off a lot of couples for the exact same reason, in the sense that they're like, 'You look really normal; you look like you should be very happily married? What's wrong with you?'"
In a May TikTok, Danielle responded to a similar question from a commenter, who asked her why they even bothered to tie the knot.
"We are married because we found our person," she explained. "We want to spend our lives together. We have kids, we coach each other through our careers, we spend a ton of time together and with each other's families. We make decisions together. We daydream about the future. … Marriage is much, much bigger than sexual exclusivity."
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