The Hardest Part of Opening an Existing Relationship: You Can’t Reroll Your Partner’s Stats (or Your Own)

a tower of various blue dice (D4, D10, D12, D6, D20, etc) balanced so as to form a tower. They are on a character sheet for on a wooden table. The background is blurry but appears to have other dice.
Image by Scott Akerman / CC BY

The most difficult part of opening up a relationship is that you’re changing its terms. However, it isn’t just the adjustment stress that can accompany all change (although that can be tough). It’s also that most of the time you didn’t go into the relationship expecting it to be open. And suddenly things that never mattered, do.

Like a lot of people, I selected a partner with the expectation that we  would always be monogamous. I never gave a thought when I was considering whether I should date Seth as to how responsibly he would select other partners because for my purposes, he had to select exactly one romantic partner: Me.

But once we opened up, partner selection was a crucial skill. And Seth’s ability in this sphere was a total mystery. It wasn’t like I could really get a sense of it from considering his exes. For starters, there weren’t many data points. When we married, I was either Seth’s second or third girlfriend, depending on how liberally you defined that term. And because we both labored under the expectations of toxic monogamy culture, where we believed we had to function as each other’s One and Only in both past and present, exes were something taboo. At that point in our lives, neither of us would hang out with exes on a friendly basis. And Seth would get irritated when I would tell stories about mine, so I quickly learned that even that was unacceptable.

What I did know of his ex was a bitter story of infidelity and betrayal. But none of that told me about how he decided to be with her in the first place. What his thought process was.

I know it ended badly, but that really told me nothing.

And Seth knew I’d had an abusive ex-boyfriend. But how much of that was my own doing? Would I fall into those same patterns with new lovers? End up abused and mistreated while he stood by, powerless to stop it? It remained to be seen.

There was only one way to find out how well we selected partners: We opened up. And braced ourselves.

You Can’t Reroll Your Partner’s Stats (or Your Own)

Opening a relationship that’s been closed is like undergoing a class change in a role-playing game — you’ve stat-ed yourself like a warrior, and all of a sudden you want to cast spells.

Stats that were irrelevant before are now crucial. It wasn’t a problem when you were a warrior that your character had 7 intelligence. But now that you’re a wizard it’s devastating. All your spells are fizzling. You’re at death’s door.

And the time for re-rolling stats is over. You had your chance at the beginning of the game, during character creation.

The best you can do now is struggle through combat somehow and hopefully level up along the way, put your new stats in places that’ll make this new build work.

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My new book is out!

A Geek’s Guide to Unicorn Ranching: Advice for Couples Seeking Another Partner 

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