“In a happy committed open relationship,” read Karl’s Tinder profile.
My friend Claire had no problem with that. She continued to read through his bio.
“If you message me, say ‘Tigger’ in your message to signal that you’ve actually read this.”
Not only did Karl disclose the fact that he was in a relationship, he was taking responsibility for Claire’s or any other woman’s understanding of that fact.
He clearly wanted to ensure everyone was in the know. She applauded his honesty and ethics — this was a far cry from cheating. It seemed like proof he was a good guy.
But unfortunately, the strong moral compass she perceived on his profile didn’t quite translate to the real world.
After matching and having a bit of back and forth, Karl and Claire met on a summer evening at his place.
He met her at the door, took her to his room, and offered her a seat on the couch. He asked if she’d like some wine. She did.
He brought her a glass and sat down beside her. They started to chat. As he spoke, Claire swirled the red liquid in her glass.
More than an hour went by, the conversation was flowing.
When the bottle of wine was nearly finished, they segued into his relationship. Through purple stained teeth, he told her she could ask him anything about it that she’d like. “I’m an open book,” he said.
She was impressed by the trust he and his girlfriend seemed to share, and by his full head of brown hair and clear blue eyes.
She began to tell him about her recent break up, and mid-sentence, he put his hand on her thigh.
It sent a jolt through her, interrupting the thread in her mind. As she stumbled over her words, her face glowing, he looked at her intently and their heads inched closer.
His lips on her’s sent more electricity through her. They kept kissing, and he started to undress her. Eventually, they had sex. He came.
And then they did it again. For hours they lay in bed, chatted, and had sex in sequence. They joked that they would try to finish his box of condoms (they were unsuccessful.)
After a painful breakup several weeks before, it felt good to be with someone new, feel the heat of his body, the force of his hands on her.
His apparently insatiable desire.
But that feeling was short lived.
As they lay in his bed half naked, Karl on his back with his arm over her, Claire on her side with her body turned towards him, she asked him if it was okay if she spent the night.
It was getting late, after 1am, and raining. It was just a courtesy ask. She didn’t really think she’d need permission.
So when he answered, “I’m sorry but my girlfriend is the only one who can sleep here,” she was floored.
She averted her eyes downward and then turned onto her back looking up at his ceiling. A giant hole formed in her stomach as the words sunk in and the weight of what he’d just said crushed her.
She waited a few seconds like that, thinking maybe he would take it back. In silence, screams pierced her mind.
She felt the back of her eyes start to burn. But she would not cry in front of him.
She had to leave now. This place was not meant for her. It was for him and his girlfriend. He’d just made that clear.
“Okay,” she said. She wondered if maybe this was her fault. She’d known he was in a relationship. She could understand why his girlfriend wouldn’t want her sleeping in his bed. Suddenly she felt stupid.
Maybe she should have realized it. Maybe she shouldn’t have assumed anything.
He continued to lay in bed as she got up and picked up her shirt from the couch. “I’m sorry,” he said. “That’s just our rule.”
“It’s okay,” she said. “But I’m going to go home now then.”
“Okay…” he responded with a hint of relief in his voice which jabbed her again.
When she finished getting dressed, he walked her to the door. “Thank you for coming,” he said. “I had a great time.”
“Yup,” she replied. He kissed her on the lips one last time. As she walked down the stairs, tears filled her eyes.
Reflecting on this evening, Claire explained to me how hurt she felt that night. In the context of a recent breakup, it made her feel especially worthless.
Karl had espoused this ideal of non-monogamy. He was able to let go of the need to possess the person he loved. He had the guise of a free thinker. A morally superior being who didn’t need to prescribe to the rules of normal society, the prison of monogamy.
But in reality, his moral compass pointed in only one direction: that of his girlfriend.
Claire and he had shared fluids, talked for hours, yet he’d failed to mention the fact that she would not be able to sleep over until after they’d had sex.
But she hadn’t come there just for sex — she’d wanted to cuddle too.
The whole experience reinforced something: The idea of ethical non-monogamy is one thing, but the reality of it is often another.
Often people in supposed “ethically monogamous relationships” are quite selfish. “They want to have their cake and eat it too but then not share the cake,” she says.
Claire thinks non-monogamy can work, but only in special circumstances.
First off, you need to be really secure and confident in yourself.
Secondly, you have to be committed to your partner, to taking care of their needs. It’s not a license to be selfish and just do whatever you want.
And lastly, you have to show compassion towards all of the people involved, not just yourself and your primary partner.
Long term, Claire doesn’t think non-monogamy is for her.
That said, she has been seeing a good friend for the past few months. And one might call what they have an open relationship. They are both going on dates with other people as they see each other. She doesn’t know where it’s going or what she wants out of it all.
Either way, during this cold lonely Berlin winter, it’s nice to have someone to cuddle with and keep her warm at night. At least she can count on him not telling her to go home in the rain.