Are 'open relationships' still feasible once you have kids?

Photo: Getty
Photo: Getty 

I recently met a delightful, newly-engaged young couple.

As well as being super smart, effortlessly cool and oh so contemporary (she proposed to him!) they also happened to describe their relationship as an 'open' one

If pro-polyamory Reddit threads and Facebook group discussions are anything to go by, their 'open relationship' is similar to many others in Australia.

Photo: Getty
Photo: Getty 

It's defined by a verbal agreement that if or when one of them happens to find him/herself drawn to someone outside of their partnership, they have each other's permission to pursue that person.

The goal is to get the physical attraction 'out of their system', in order to strengthen their emotional commitment to one another. 

Theoretically, this arrangement mostly makes sense to me. After all, it's normal to develop crushes on more than one person in a lifetime. Isn't it more productive for a couple to talk about or - dare I say - act on these feelings in a transparent, honest way? Sometimes, removing the deceit also removes the desire.

As Esther Perel writes in her book (bible) Mating in Captivity: Unlocking Erotic Intelligence: "Where there is nothing left to hide, there is nothing left to seek."

As a new-ish parent, I just couldn't seem to get my head around how an 'open relationship' could work once kids are in the picture. Not from a moral perspective (some research even suggests there are certain advantages for children with 'poly parents').

My reservations stemmed from a purely practical place. Specifically: 


Who babysits? 

In cases where rendezvous must not take place inside a couple's home (unlike polyamorous multiple-adult-families who choose to live together), who looks after the kids?

Do you take it in turns or pay a babysitter to mind the children while you both see your respective lovers at the same time?

I'm going to go ahead and assume you're not asking Nan and Pop for assistance, unless you've been blessed with the most permissive Baby Boomer parents in the entire universe. 

What if only one of you has success finding a lover? 

I spend a total of 60 hours per week with our small child. As the primary income earner, my husband spends about 20 hours with her, at best.

If he asked me for a night off to visit his hypothetical 'bit on the side', I'd LcOL (laugh cry out loud). He's lucky enough to get 30 minutes of leave a week to lift some weights in our garage. 

What about COVID-19? 

Aren't you a bit paranoid that your lover (or your lover's lover) might be an asymptomatic COVID-19 carrier? Or an asymptotic anything carrier.

Who has time for the common cold these days? 

What about STIs? 

In a similar vein, wouldn't you constantly be paranoid about catching and giving your primary partner an STI? Where penises are involved, condoms can lower the chances of getting HPV and pubic lice, but parasites and viruses can still infect areas not covered by a condom. (Yes, lesbian and bisexual women get STIs too!)

Who has the emotional resources for an itchy vag when there's work to be done, lunches to pack and school drop-off/pick-ups to coordinate? 

Where do you find the time?  

Every couple who has kids will tell you how difficult it is to find the time to nurture their own relationship.

Keeping in mind how rare simple 'date nights' are, wouldn't you rather seize any opportunity to carve out space for intimacy with your primary partner? 

How do you have the energy? 

I barely have the energy to wash my 'good pair' of jeans these days, let alone put them on!

After you've wrapped up work (or spent the entire day wrangling the little one/s), completed the domestic duties and put the kids to sleep, how do you have the enthusiasm to be charming and chatty and … showered?

Wouldn't you prefer to spend the night sitting on the couch, in front of the TV, tweezing out each other's ingrowns, asking, "Who else might possibly find us this bloody attractive?" 

I hope to receive answers to my questions ASAP, so if you're able to provide insight, please get in touch. Until then, I suppose I'll have to accept that I'm just not effortlessly cool. Or contemporary.

My husband and I will continue to make do with our respective Netflix crushes while our 'good pairs' of jeans exchange flirtations in the dirty laundry basket. At least our tweezers will get some action.