Aubrey Marcus gets real about his open relationship
No matter which way you spin it, open relationships are super fascinating to those of us who have been living under the impression that monogamy was the only way – even if we don’t necessarily think we could handle an open relationship ourselves.
But, like most alternative lifestyles, people in open relationships always seem to be broadcasting the fantastic parts of their reality, rather than the realness. Like, sure, having the option to have sex with the hot rando you met on the train today while still in a loving relationship sounds awesome, but what’s the catch?
We talked with Aubrey Marcus, who’s been in an open relationship with his primary partner – former Miss USA Whitney Miller – for the past three years. He gets super real about how it started, the ups, the downs, and everything in between.
Plus, for those of you who know from the get-go that you can’t swing that way, he offers some advice that monogamous people can take from people like him.
When you first met, did you know you were entering an open relationship or did that come up later?
We were together for two and a half years, and started off in a traditional monogamous relationship. Both of us, despite having a history of not having relationships that lasted very long and both of us kind of feeling restless, of course convinced ourselves that it was because we didn’t have the right partner.
You’re not really presented with “open” as an option in mainstream culture. You have things like “swingers” and these other “poly” and all of these things that seem pretty intimidating and not mainstream. So we didn’t really see any other options, and then I think two and a half years in — it was a similar pattern. Both of us got kind of stale and kind of restless. There wasn’t anything in particular about each other, the relationship just grew tired and there was a little bit of resentment and feeling trapped that started to mount.
Around that time, I had read a book called “Sex at Dawn” by Christopher Ryan, and that was really a key moment for me in which I realized that it wasn’t just men that were interested in multiple sexual partners. [Men and women] want love and affection and romance and sex from multiple sources, from a biological and anthropological standpoint.
Once that theory was in my head, then I realized, alright, it’s time to give this a try.
I realized that I couldn’t breathe in a traditional monogamous relationship forever. [That’s] just who I really [am]. So I presented the idea to her and said, “You know I love you very, very much, and this is what I need, are you willing to give it a try?” At first, she said no and we broke up for a while. And then a couple months later, she traveled around the world and dated a little bit, and we still really loved each other, so she decided to give it a go. Then came the really hard part, which was putting it all into practice.
That was three years ago. I had a lover first, so she had to go through all those feelings of jealousy and insecurity and possession and rivalry and all of the things that come up. She had to go through it first and that was frustrating for me because I was like, “Look, we agreed to this, we understood one another,” and I respected and appreciated her more for being able to do this, but I underestimated how hard it would be for me when she got her first lover.
[When] she got her first lover… I spent the next day — after I had found out they had sex — completely nauseous and like I constantly needed to vomit every second of the day. It was really hard. But, I knew it was something I could get over. If that guy was making her happy and she was making him happy, and they were both increasing each other’s pleasure, why should that make me upset? If someone was hurting her then I would have a right to be angry. If someone is making her feel love and pleasure, why do I have a right to be angry?
That was the start of a long journey of just working, trying to keep consciousness levels high and understandings high, and dealing with the emotions that would bubble up and troubleshooting and ultimately getting to where we are now which is a place where we love each other more than ever and I can honestly say I’m more attracted to her than I ever have been. There’s just a ton of passion and a ton of romance – enough that I was really comfortable and enthusiastic to propose to her, because I know this is the structure that can work and that I want her to be my life partner.
Do you still get feelings like that?
They get less and less, but sometimes they creep up and can catch you by surprise. But the process is to work through them in the ways that you remind yourself of what’s actually happening, and that helps you work through it really fast. It’s now at a place where I can genuinely root for her and be happy for her when she’s having fun with somebody else.
It’s not something where it’s a turn-on for me. I know that’s a big thing, where a lot of men get turned on by the idea of their partner sleeping with somebody. I don’t have that gene, it would probably make things easier if I did. That’s not how it works for me, but I am genuinely happy when she’s happy. I also know that when she spends time with somebody else, she comes back to me more loving, more affectionate, more grateful, and our bond gets stronger. It’s the same when I see somebody else. I come back to her refreshed and I can look forward to our relationship getting stronger every time one of us sees somebody.
So when one of you meets a new partner, are you completely open with each other about that? Do you make it a point?
We have a ritual called bringing it to 100, where we just get 100 percent honest with each other about everything. It’s so relaxing and stress relieving to have absolutely zero things to be hiding. To be able to talk 100 percent completely and openly about everything. In a lot of ways, monogamy precludes fidelity. People are monogamous, but they’re unfaithful with their honesty all the time, even if they’re not unfaithful with their body. We’re in a situation where we’ve discarded monogamy, but we have true, authentic fidelity. We’re just perfectly honest and up front with each other.
I know you were the one that brought up the idea of an open relationship, but in a recent New York Times article I read, the writer found that in the majority of open relationships, women are actually the ones to bring it up. Why do you think that is?
When I talk to men and women about it, you would think that at first men are all for the idea of multiple lovers. But when I ask them, “Do you think you could really handle your girl, your love, fucking somebody else?” And they can’t even handle that thought. It’s so impossibly painful that they can’t even consider it. That’s probably why those statistics are in place. You know, women inherently have a better time dealing with the idea of their partners sleeping with somebody then men do. That possessiveness has been ingrained in our culture. If you’re a man, you’re the only man that can satisfy your woman and you’re the only one she’s interested in and only if you fail as man will she cheat. That exists for women as well, but it’s not as strongly as imprinted as it is on men.
Studies have shown how men are more likely to get upset over a significant other cheating sexually rather than emotionally – many men find it emasculating. Do you ever struggle with this?
I would say emasculating is a challenging word. I wouldn’t say that’s exactly how I would describe it, but those feelings of comparison when you compare your ego to your identity with the other person’s, those comparison feelings can be very strong. I remember when Whitney dated a professional fighter, and I thought, “Aw man, maybe I need to train more and be a better fighter myself,” but it was this ridiculous idea because I’ll never be as good as that guy. I could just torture myself thinking that I had to be better than him at everything, or I could just say, “Oh, that’s his flavor, and I have my flavor.” You know, you’re gonna like different flavors. If you had one ice cream shop with all the flavors mixed into one, that would not be a popular ice cream shop. The beauty of an ice cream shop is all these things that are distinctly their own flavor and you don’t wanna mix them all.
Do you usually meet the men that she’s seeing?
I don’t always, but its way easier when I do. I prefer it because, imagine you’re a guy that really loves his car, and if you have a buddy that takes your car for a ride, you’re like, “Oh yeah, cool, my buddy took my car out for a ride.” But, when you have a random stranger take your car for a ride, you wonder what he’s doing. Maybe he’s speeding around or hit a curb, it’s this idea that maybe he doesn’t have my back. When you’re friends — even though she’s not my possession like a car is — the idea is that person’s gonna have your back and they’re not going to do anything psychologically manipulative, emotionally manipulative, sexually manipulative, where your imagination can run, they’re gonna be less likely to do that because they’re your friend and you guys are homies. When you don’t know the person at all, and all you have is a picture and a name, that’s the worst.
For me, the best is to know the guy, second best is to be like, “Hey, I met a guy, we were safe, everything was cool, etc.” The middle ground is the most challenging. Safety is obviously a priority, and people worry about that, but it’s actually easier when you’re 100 percent honest.
In a monogamous relationship, if you’ve had sex with someone else, you can’t just be like, “Hey, let’s use protection,” so you just go on and have sex with your partner because you don’t wanna bust yourself. We’ve been really good about it, but occasionally, in the heat of the moment, we’ll do something that is not perfectly safe. But we are able to talk about it, and say, “We didn’t use protection, I’m really sorry about that, give me a week and I’ll get tested,” and we will use protection that week. That’s happened a couple times, but honesty is the best defense in that scenario.
If she’s seeing a guy and she’s introducing you to him, and the guy hasn’t dealt with an open relationship before, do you think they might be scared of you?
I wouldn’t say scared. They’re confused, like really confused. Their mind will run a couple of different ways. One, they’re gonna think that this is a fetish of mine. Then they see that’s not really the issue and think maybe I don’t give a shit about her, that’s not the issue. Then they think maybe I’m just weak and she’s demanding me this and pushing me over, and then they realize that’s not really the issue.
Finally, after a lot of confusion and getting to know me, they get to know the truth of it. That’s the eye opening moment where they’re like, “Holy shit, this makes a lot of sense, this is fucking awesome.” Some of them have tried to adopt that into their own lives, but that hurdle of being able to share your primary partner is really, really challenging. For them, sharing Whitney with me is understood from the outside. The idea of their other primary lover with somebody else, they can’t handle that, and that’s ultimately where it breaks down.
With the relationships that you and Whitney have outside of your partnership, are they generally more involved relationships – like a boyfriend or girlfriend on the side? Or more one night stands?
It’s a little bit of both. I prefer longer term partners. We’ve also had lovers that are just for a night or two. In three years, I’ve had five lovers, she’s had about the same. Some have stuck around for a year, or almost two years. Some six months, a couple of them have just been for a week or for a night. We’re really picky, and really happy with what we have, we’re not coming from a place of scarcity. We’re just trying to meet awesome people and share physical and sexual experiences.
Do you think part of the happiness you find in an open relationship is knowing that you have the option if you meet somebody that you’re really interested in?
Yes, it’s a whole different approach when you feel free and you know that you can. When I’m out with the boys, it’s not like I’m the one in handcuffs and they’re all out having fun. We’re all out having fun and anything is possible, even though I rarely exercise one night stands. Feeling free and feeling available and being able to flirt and have fun is really nice. I’m more attracted to her knowing that she’s choosing to be with me. When she goes out at night, she doesn’t have to come home with me. When she chooses to, it just brings choice back in. Nobody fantasizes about a wild horse that’s domesticated and stuck in a stall. People fantasize about that wild stallion, that untamable horse that comes to you because it loves you.
When you and Whitney open up to people about your relationship or to people that might know about the nature of the relationship, do you feel like people who haven’t experienced that judge you for it?
People who know us tend not to, they tend to get kind of stoked about it. They see how happy we are for the most part, and we don’t paint an overly rosy picture. We’ve had our tough times comes up, but overall we’re extremely happy and there’s very little drama.
Everybody who really knows us and is our friend is kind of happy on all fronts. Being frank, no one who’s tried it has been successful yet, but then there’s people on the outside who are very threatened by it. What’s threatening is the idea that their lover may want to sleep with somebody else. They kind of try and attack that construct so they diminish the possibility of that in their own lives to a certain extent. People who don’t really know us, you know, there will be a lot of whispers and a lot of people trying to bring that down but that’s their own defense mechanism to a certain degree.
You mentioned that a lot of your friends have tried open relationships and it hasn’t worked out for them. You said a big thing is not being able to see your partner with somebody else, but what kind of person do you think is best suited for being in an open relationship?
The only way to get out of a hell that an open relationship is gonna put you in, is to have principles that elevate your consciousness. You can’t fight your way through ego games trying to be better than the other person, trying to show how much more worth you have than them. You have to evolve and ascend to more conscious principles. If you don’t have that as part of your practice or paradigm, you will fail and the mechanism will be “I’m gonna show you how much better I am than that person,” and that’s always a pathway to hell and destruction.
The only way is to ascend to the higher principles, to be able to talk to people who are more spiritual or metaphysically inclined, and can see that we’re all the same person living different lives and that someone else’s pleasure is your pleasure. Someone else’s pain is your pain. You get this kind of collective idea that we’re all really the same. No one needs to possess anyone. Pleasure is pleasure. Love is love. Love doesn’t possess, love doesn’t own, love doesn’t make demands. You have to be able to find your way back to those principles and deal with emotions.
People with a strong spiritual practice or yoga practice, whatever the means are to elevate your consciousness, I think is really essential to make this happen.
Do you or Whitney ever have the fear that, “Oh, she’s been seeing this other partner a lot, what if she wants that person to be her primary partner?”
Yeah, for sure. It’s happened to both of us. It’s been challenging, for sure, but both of us have told the other person “Hey, if you wanna be with that person, I’ll still love you and support that decision and if you want to switch and have that person be your primary, go for it.” It’s a really tough thing to say and neither one of us really wanted that to happen, but the other person’s fear is what made us have to tell them that, to let them know it was okay, and that was a real test of our love.
If that’s going to bring the greatest happiness to you, you have to support that. If you’re in this relationship, you have to be committed to each other’s greatest happiness. It’s mutual reciprocity, and that’s the only way it works.
What do you think people in monogamous relationships can learn from people in open relationships?
I think the key thing is that jealousy is a learned response that can be unlearned. I understand there are biological roots to it, but it can be unlearned. It can be transcended. That resentment is the monster that eats love. If you find yourself resenting somebody, that only eats love and destroys it. Learn that you don’t have to be jealous, and be weary of resentment, and be honest with yourself when resentment is building.
At the very least, even if you have no actions done in a monogamous relationship, you have to elevate the level of honesty. That is the base requirement. I think monogamy is a fine agreement, but for it to really work, you have to be able to be honest with your partner. You hear a lot of bullshit about “Oh yeah, I married my best friend.” Meanwhile, they’re lying to their best friend all the time. The things they tell their actual best friends are one thing and the things they tell their partner are totally different. You don’t lie to your best friend. That’s the main part. Elevate the level of honesty at the bare minimum, learn that jealousy can be transcended, and watch out for resentment.