Lesbianing with AE: Help! My Girlfriend Wants to Open Our Relationship

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Dear Lindsey,

My girlfriend is going on a semester abroad. She just told me that she wants permission to sleep with other people while she is away. I feel hurt and I don’t want to give her permission. She has never expressed a desire to be open before, and we have never done the long distance thing before. I don’t understand why she feels the need now to sleep with other people just because there will be an ocean between us. I’ve told her I’ll come visit, it won’t be that long, she can suck it up and go without sex for a month or two. But she says she “doesn’t want to deny herself the opportunity to explore new attraction” if something comes up. We’ve been happy together until this point. She says she only wants this permission while she is on her semester abroad and traveling after, so I know we’ll be happy when she comes back. Do I need to give her permission, knowing that it will probably make me depressed sitting on campus thinking about her sleeping with someone else while I’m alone? Or worrying that any “friend” I meet when I go visit her is someone she’s fucked? If I don’t give her this permission, will she do it anyway or break up with me because I won’t give her what she wants for her semester abroad experience?

– Scared

Scared,

I can’t tell you how many of my friends took breaks from their relationships when they studied abroad. It was most of them. People who want to press the pause button on their existing relationship when they’re going to Italy or Ireland or Australia aren’t necessarily sluttier than those who want to stay faithful with their campus sweetie – they just know themselves.

It sounds like you and your girlfriend see sex differently.

For your girlfriend, sex is a physical need to be met. An itch to be scratched. This is the way our society collectively agrees to believe that men see sex, which is why it’s not a surprise to anyone when some dude cheats on his girlfriend or wife. It is more surprising when the wife cheats because it goes against the way we’ve all agreed to box in women’s sexuality.

So let’s unbox your girlfriend’s sexuality. She likes to have sex. Sex can be an emotional investment for her—it obviously is with you. But it can be a fun experience with no strings attached—what it would be with these international flings.

Let’s unbox your girlfriend’s sexuality. She likes to have sex. Sex can be an emotional investment for her—it obviously is with you. But it can be a fun experience with no strings attached—what it would be with these international flings.

For you, sex is very emotional — just look at how upset you are over the prospect of her sleeping with someone else. A different person might get totally turned on by the prospect of their girlfriend sitting on some hot Aussie’s face. Again, not you.

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Your girlfriend can’t understand how upset this permission slip makes you, because she is insisting that everything will be “the way it is now” when she’s back on campus. To you, that’s a question and not a statement — because you’re not sure if it will go back to the way it is now for you.

If you double-down on exclusivity, then yes, your girlfriend might break up with you so she can be open to all the experiences her international study has to offer. Or she may yes you, then sleep with someone anyway. She might not find anyone in her program hot, or she might get shut down by the only gay lady in the village. You really don’t know what will happen, and imagining all the what-ifs only makes you feel worse.

If you double-down on exclusivity, then yes, your girlfriend might break up with you so she can be open to all the experiences her international study has to offer. Or she may yes you, then sleep with someone anyway. She might not find anyone in her program hot, or she might get shut down by the only gay lady in the village. You really don’t know what will happen, and imagining all the what-ifs only makes you feel worse.

There’s no great outcome here where you get 100 percent of what you want. Sure, you could tell her no and she could honor that commitment, but I doubt you’ll sleep easy until she is back in your arms. So what is the best option that you are left with? Giving her permission, but telling her you don’t want to hear about it? Telling her one-night stands are okay? Breaking up and moving on? Pausing things and picking up when she is stateside? Or getting her to tell you no when you kinda don’t believe she means it?

I don’t know what’s right for you two. Talk about your options, then pick whichever one you can live with best. If you’re meant to be together, things will work themselves out. 

Do you need Lindsey’s advice? Write to our editor [email protected] with “Q for Lindsey” in the subject line! 

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