Jim Nash and his partner of eight years have an open relationship. They always have. It was a decision they made when they got together, an event that came on the heels of Jim getting out of his first marriage. Still, Jim, who is not actually named Jim, and his partner were aware from the get-go that open relationships come with specific hazards. (She might get jealous. He might get weird.) So they decided to take a tactical approach to fidelity: Play by the rules and everything goes according to plan.
The core of their plan? Using a shared email account for all correspondences with future dates and potential love interests. It might not always be the most crowded inbox — they don’t swing constantly, it’s not some sort of compulsion — but it represents a commitment to full transparency. The email account is, in a sense, both the hall pass and the hall. It allows for visibility, which eliminates anxiety.
Eager to get some tips on not just open relationships — interesting, probably fun but not for everyone — but open communication, Fatherly talked to Jim about his arrangement and how he and his partner have made it work for the better part of a decade.
How did these approved hall passes begin?
My partner and I have been together for over 8 years now. We had an open relationship from the beginning. We both came to our relationship out of what we would call vanilla relationships: a little more standard, and a little less open. One of the things that drew us to each other was that we had that desire to keep things more open, knowing that at the core of it all, we were still the same couple, regardless of what we did.
Those conversations really came up very early in our relationship. I think it started more from a swinging perspective. We wanted to experiment with some things.
So you were always pretty clear about what you want in the relationship?
Yeah. And I think that really helped strengthen our relationship early on. It continues to do so to this day. You have to have a hypersensitive level of trust to be able to be comfortable with that type of relationship.
Why does it make your relationship stronger, other than increasing trust?
I think both of us believe that monogamy might not be the natural way of things. It’s sort of counter-intuitive to a lot of instincts. Rather than try to pretend that those feelings don’t exist or that we’ll just be happy with one situation and one partner from here until eternity, we acknowledge that it’s okay to explore other situations as long as we’re open about it.
We’ve had that kind of relationship since the beginning. I don’t know, it’s just been really refreshing. I’ve been in relationships in the past where there was some swinging and openness but it wasn’t quite to this level, with this relationship.
It takes a lot of self-esteem. You have to build up to that in the beginning if you’re not comfortable with it, because a lot of people might just be worried that their partner might find someone else that they enjoy more. The rest of it is just a physical exploration, I guess you could say.
So what are the logistics of your open relationship?
We set up a common email account that we use for those types of correspondences so that you’re not always worrying what the other person is texting. So the rule is that we share every step of the way. From: this guy flirted with me, to I think he wants to take me out for a drink, to whatever. To me, that’s part of the excitement of the whole thing anyway. I like to hear those details. The only way that it would be a problem for me is if it was happening behind my back, and I think she feels the same way. She would rather I just be open about that person; if I thought they were attractive or if I wanted to pursue or date them.
Openness is a rule. Beyond that, we practice safe sex. Condoms, the basic physical part of things like that.
How often do you see people outside of your primary relationship?
It varies. Like any sort of dating scenario, whether you’re in a traditional, single, or open relationship, it just depends on what you’ve got going on in your life at the time or what the options are out there. For us, it goes through phases. We could go through half a year of complete “normal” monogamous family life and then all of the sudden, a situation arises, somebody piques one of our interests, and then there are playdates happening. It just comes and goes.
I’m curious: is the fact that your relationship open private to you? Do your friends know? Family?
It’s private. We don’t share that with our family. Actually, she just spilled the beans to a cousin on a recent trip and it was a total non-shock to this particular cousin. She’s in our age-range and lifestyle demographic. It came out as pretty natural. That was the first time that either of us had really mentioned it to family.
There are a few friends that know. I’m in a band, and my guitar player knows, just because we see each other all the time and we’ve known each other for 10 years, so we’re pretty much an open book with each other. But beyond one or two friends a piece, and people that are also in the lifestyle, it’s private.
Why do you think that you keep that close to the chest?
There’s still quite a bit of stigma about it and it’s our business. There’s no need to bring it up. I’m pretty open about it if somebody asks me. I don’t shy away from everything, but I also don’t list it on my Facebook profile or anything like that. There’s enough people that are into that lifestyle and frame of mind that you can find your tribe, if you look. Maybe it’ll be different someday. As it becomes normalized, and people realize that like, hey, these people aren’t freaks or kinky weirdos — well, maybe we are, a little bit -— but it could probably benefit a lot more people.
Until then, I don’t necessarily feel the need to fly a flag for it. Maybe it’s a weird equivalency, but I think about marijuana. I see all this stuff popping up where people are talking about buying pot, people that 10 years ago or less, would have just thought that was the devil, you know?
How do you find people who are down to date someone in an open relationship?
Early on in this relationship, we were like, how do we find people? We’d try to approach some friends about it and they were like ‘No… no thanks. That’s not my jam.’ That was awkward.
So we thought, instead of approaching people we know, let’s try to find some people that we know are into it, and then take it from there, and if a friendship develops, great. So I researched some websites and found adultfriendfinder.com. There was another called swinglifestyle.com. These are just like Match.com or dating services where the sole purpose is to meet people who are open about that. It’s helped.
I imagine it must make things a lot easier.
There are still struggles with any dating situation. You still have flakes or people who aren’t on the up and up. Any kind of dating is going to be hard — this isn’t any easier. But you get over the awkward part right off the bat with these sites. You know what their limits are, and what they’re into, because they list it on their profile! It’s social media for people who want to explore that side of themselves. That’s been helpful. And through those sites, you find out about different events, parties, things like that. You can see clubs in your area; different parties, where you just register, go, meet other people who are into that lifestyle. It’s kind of like a place to mingle and meet other like-minded folks; and sometimes it results in dates or relationships, and sometimes it’s just a fun, goofy thing to do, and go people watch.
What’s your favorite part about having an open relationship?
Out of all of the different things we’ve done, to me, the most exciting thing is her being with somebody else. Even more-so than me being with somebody else, which I guess some people might think is strange. People on the outside might look in and say, ‘You’re so lucky, you get to be with other people.’ But for me, the real thrill is allowing my girlfriend the freedom to go out and experience other pleasures and expand her own sexual horizons and her own boundaries. For me, that’s the rewarding part and exciting part of this whole thing.
Why do you think that is exciting to you?
I’ve tried to define that for myself over the years. The closest I can get is that I think that there is a thrill to the jealousy. Even though I’m not a jealous guy, there’s still a certain amount of that adrenaline that you get from jealousy, if that makes any sense. It’s a thrill but it’s also controlled, in a way.
My favorite term I’ve heard recently is ‘ethical non-monogamy.’ It sounds so PC and normalized when you say that. It sounds a lot better than saying, ‘Yeah, I’m a swinger.’ That makes people think of that guy Bob from That 70’s Show with the chain and the chest hair and the hot tub and stuff. It still has those connotations.