‘Every time I drop the kids off at school, I wonder how many of the moms and dads are also living these crazy sex lives behind closed doors.’
 
Elizabeth carried on talking, but I was still busy picking my jaw up off the floor.
 
‘Also living’. The words clanged about in my brain.

In all the time that I’d known my sweet-as-as-a-church-mouse friend it had never occurred to me that she and her husband were kinky enough to find a third. In other words, open their monogamous relationship and get themselves an actual human to play with.
 
Theirs was a man they’d chosen from a swingers site, a divorcee looking to play and no intention to throuple up. ‘He’s just delightful,’ Elizabeth explained casually. ‘And after 14 years being together we thought we owed ourselves a little present. You know?’
 
I do know. I know because apparently open relationships have become the new playing fields for singles. I know because I’ve just recently tried my, em, hand, at it. I know because a very good friend of mine – let’s call her Betty – has been the third for about a year now.
 
Well, not technically the third. Unlike Elizabeth and her hubby who’ve opened their relationship to play with a third together, Betty’s couple – let’s call them Mr & Mrs Smith – find their own partners and play separately.
 
However, in an uncomfortable twist, Mr Smith (who visits Betty once or twice a week), seems to be trying to move Betty into throupledom.

‘I am not a bloody suburban sex toy!’ she muttered as we frogmarched our issues down the promenade. ‘I don’t want to be a sister wife! I am a separate human with rights and feelings and they also count!’
 
They sure do.
 
Betty’s couple team had opened their relationship up years ago and had very firm boundaries and expectations in place. Playing separately with other people was a game that strengthened their bond and sexual attraction for each other.
 
But Betty’s involvement with Mr Smith was about more than just physical gratification.

Theirs started off as a deep friendship that evolved into sex when Betty got her head around the less-than-conventional open relationship model Mr Smith presented her. Great for Mr & Mrs Smith’s relationship, sure. But what about Betty?
 
‘Look, it ticks all my boxes you know,’ Betty told me when I sat her down for A Chat About Open Relationships.

‘I feel safe and cared for, satisfied and nourished, and it doesn’t take up too much of my time. My career is taking off at the moment and a full-time relationship isn’t really on the cards for now. I totally understand that his wife and kids take priority. But ultimately you have someone else controlling your interaction with this person. And that sucks.’
 
That someone else is the Mrs Smith in this case. Couples that choose to open their relationships in a healthy way do so with two main rules: regular negotiations about what is working and what isn’t; and the solid foundation of ‘us’ versus the ‘them we play with’.
 
It’s loosely a sort of ‘couple’s privilege’, a term used a lot in ‘alternative lifestyle’ set-ups, but basically seen on a daily basis everywhere. It’s the idea that pair-bonded couples and their needs are somehow better and more valid than singles or those in less defined or traditional relationship models.
 
If I was part of the Mr & Mrs Smith set-up, this would suit me just fine. But as a third, as the ‘suburban sex toy’, the chances of your needs getting sidelined are pretty high.
 
For example. My experience of being a third in an open relationship is way less involved than Betty’s. But couple’s privilege stepped in quickly. Shortly after the Mr and I hooked up, the Mrs became uncomfortable with the arrangement, pulled the plug and that was that.
 
They have an absolute right to shape and reshape their relationship towards what works for them, but I couldn’t help feeling a bit snubbed. Fortunately, there was little lost apart from the opportunity to enjoy a good NSA (no strings attached) set-up again.
 
For Betty, it’s different. In a way, Mr Smith has become a boyfriend figure, a comparison to draw when she goes on dates and a conceptual pause when someone asks her: ‘So, are you seeing anyone?’
 
Weeeelll… it’s complicated.
 
Isn’t it always.
 
‘I think about ending it. But I’m not sure why I would right now. Why would I end something that is generally working so well for me and him,’ says Betty.

‘I suppose the question I have to ask myself is: do I want to hurt now or hurt later? But I’m not sure that question is really any different for “normal” couples anyway.’

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