Why a Don't Ask Don't Tell Relationship Is a Terrible Idea (From Someone Who's Been There)
Keeping secrets is inherently harmful and seems especially counter-intuitive in an open relationship.
A handful of years ago, I got involved with a colleague. We met on a work trip. He lived in Vancouver, B.C., and I lived in Seattle. We agreed that if we found ourselves in each other’s city, we’d connect. There was a spark between us, so it wasn’t long until our paths crossed.
Fast forward – we found ourselves in a serious relationship. Up until this point, he hadn’t dated a non-monogamous woman, although he dated multiple women himself. “You openly dating other guys while seeing me is a brand-new experience for me,” he said in an email.
From what he said, the women he saw were monogamous – to him. They didn’t want to hear about his extracurricular involvements. Whether or not this was true or simply a means for him to cheat, I will never know. He sure wanted to hear about and weigh in on my relationships.
This is how I became involved in a one-sided “don’t ask don’t tell (DADT)” dynamic. This style of open relationship is when a couple has agreed to be intimate with others outside of their relationship as long as they don’t have to share any information about these interactions with their partner. Based on this and prior DADT experiences I can tell you with certainty: they don’t work.
When I visited him, we met up at hotels. He rarely stayed the night. I never once saw his place. When he came to Seattle, he stayed at my apartment. The whole hands-off, six levels of secrecy was kind of odd. Many aspects made me uncomfortable, but I didn’t question it too much. I’m into a lot of alternative things and try to approach every situation as open-mindedly as possible.
An Abundance of Red Flags
Still, there were a lot of red flags I chose to ignore. For many months, we communicated only via email and had a separate Gmail account set up for NSFW communication. (Fair enough on the latter, though it was the first of many items on a long list of paranoid precautions.) In the pre-FOSTA/SESTA era, we placed ads on Craigslist looking for threesomes. While he advocated just how ethically non-monogamous we were in our ads, I questioned his understanding of the word “ethical.”
Sure, we made decisions together. For the most part, our goals were aligned, but there’s a fine line between balancing disclosure and privacy. He withheld important information from his other partners, while I was 100% transparent about my dating and sexual activities. I understand that DADT dynamics may work for some couples, but I was never on board, and it became a pain point in our relationship.
We practiced super-vigilant safer sex – think gloves for any genital contact, condoms for blow jobs, and dental dams for oral sex and, of course, condoms for penis-in-vagina sex. He said that he hadn't had intercourse for a decade before me, and I trusted that these practices carried over to other partners. I wasn’t too worried about STIs.
I Didn't Feel Heard or Valued
In the end, I broke up with him because I couldn’t invest in a dynamic where my feelings weren’t heard or valued. We all have sovereignty over our bodies, minds and personal choices. In this relationship, I felt like a mistress, the dreaded side piece.