There are things you get used to hearing a lot when you’re in an open relationship. One of those is, “Oh, I could never do that. I wouldn’t want to share my partner.”
One common response to this a lot of people have tried is something like, “I don’t own my partner. I didn’t buy them. They’re not a possession. People can’t be shared, really, not the way that things can.”
It’s a feisty comeback that floats around perpetually in polyamorous circles. (Incidentally, Kimchi Cuddles featured it in a strip.)
Unfortunately, as good as the comeback plays out on paper, I’ve found that it’s rarely as helpful or even witty seeming when used in real life.
First of all, it makes people very defensive, since it implies that they view their own partners as property.
Furthermore, it tends to come off as pedantic. The whole premise of the argument hinges upon the person using it focusing on a very specific narrow definition of sharing that’s limited to things you can buy. This definition is actually very easily challenged. Because there are plenty of things that you can share that you don’t buy, and you don’t own the way you’d own an object, say, like your car. For example, you can share secrets. You can share germs. Share class notes. Share excitement.
So I’ve mostly stayed away from saying “you can’t share people because you don’t own them.” Granted, no argument is foolproof, but this one has performed particularly poorly. I’ve personally batted .000 with it. It only ever seems to annoy the person hearing it.
Which may be the point for some people, but that’s not usually what I’m going for.
Everyone Is Sharing Their Partner With Someone or Something
I have, however, had better luck with a different response, one that while not universally persuasive (frankly, nothing is) seems to be less nitpicky and have less sanctimony and judgment packed into it, going by the responses I’ve gotten.
It’s the evil (or good) twin to the “you can’t share people” argument.
It’s the reality that we all share our partners with someone or something.
Most People Have Other People in Their Lives
Very few people actually exist in isolation. Outside of kidnapping victims, perhaps a person who is engaged in an ongoing hardcore 24/7 Total Power Exchange relationship (and to be honest, most 24/7 dynamics no matter hardcore actually do take brief breaks for life to happen), and couples who live in extremely remote areas many miles from civilization, almost everyone else is connected to other people and socializes with others to some extent on a regular basis.
Even if you’re monogamous, your partner probably has family, friends, and coworkers. They likely also encounter strangers over the course of a day who they trade glances with and perhaps even talk with. You are sharing your partner’s social environment with them.
You may occupy a very special place in their mind, but you are not the only person in there. They think about other people, probably think of many other people fondly.
You Also Share Your Partner With Their Hobbies, Their Interests, and Their Career
And you’re also sharing your partner’s time and attention with non-humans — your partner is also occupied by their hobbies and other interests. Sometimes for hours and hours. There’s a reason there are so many girlfriends who are irritated that their boyfriends won’t stop playing video games.
And in my own case, I tend to date people who are very hard working and career oriented. I spent quite a while monogamous with a partner who traveled a lot for work, so it was very common that we were apart for a week or two at a time. Occasionally for a month.
To be honest, it was a lot harder adapting to those prolonged work trip absences at first than it was later dealing with that same partner going out on date nights with someone else after we eventually opened up (especially because I used these strategies for date nights home alone).
A Hobby That’s Like an Abusive Relationship
Sometimes a hobby can actually monopolize your partner more than an additional relationship would.
In my own case, my partner Justin is a race car driver, and he’s been busy fixing up this sad old heap for some other guys he knows.
It’s been an extremely time and labor-intensive project. For a while there, I barely saw him as he and his teammate were working against a deadline. Especially because everything seemed to be going wrong.
“I’m sorry I keep going back to her,” he said, referring to the hooptie he’d spent days fussing over. “Even though she hurts me and takes all my money.”
“There’s just something about her that keeps you coming back for more. She just has a hold over you,” I replied.
And we both laughed like idiots. Even though it was a dark joke, and we’ve both experienced actual abuse. Actually, that might be why we laughed so hard. The absurdity acting as a form of catharsis.
Every time he comes back from working on that beater, he makes the same joke just worded a bit differently each time. And I laugh like he’s never told it before.
Besides, there’s a kernel of truth there: Most of the time his racing is more easily balanced with the rest of his life (work, his other dating life, me). But this particular project has monopolized him like no other hobby ever has. More than any other relationship he’s had, too.
It’s the Same Process, Just With Slightly Different Settings
So that’s more or less what I tell people. That we’re all sharing our partners with someone or something. And really, any difference is ultimately about degree.
Because sure, being happy in an open relationship is sooooo not exactly the same thing as being cool about your partner spending a lot of time hanging out with their friends or engaging in their other hobbies and interests without you.
But in a weird way, they’re more alike than you might think they would be, especially once you can face your insecurities and master them and learn to deal with any jealousy in a productive way.
Because you’re already good at the sharing part. Better than you give yourself credit for.
Well, unless you are the kind of jealous hosebeast that doesn’t let your partner have any friends, whines when they have to work, and insists that they can’t have any hobbies you’re not personally interested in because it’s not fair to youuuuuu.
If that’s you, then okay, yeah, can’t help you there. You can’t share. You are right.
But for the rest of the monogamous folks who say this, you’re better at sharing than you know. You just share in different domains than I do and to a different degree. And that’s 100% A-OK.
Being okay with your partner dating other people might seem utterly foreign from the outside looking in, but it’s honestly really similar to being giving and gracious with someone you love when you’re cool with their having other hobbies, interests, friends, and work obligations. It’s the same process, just with slightly different settings.