Can I Ask My Boyfriend for an Open Relationship While He’s in the Navy?

We get a lot of advice questions coming in at EMandLO.com, but sadly, we just can’t answer them all. Which is why, once a week, we turn to you to decide how best to advise a reader. Make your call on the letter below by leaving your advice in the comments section. 

Dear Em  & Lo,

I am a very open-minded female with a slight obsession with exploring my sexuality & personality. I am in the 3rd year of a relationship with a sailor. It was deep love from day one and still is — a very surprising concept for myself & my close friends, as I have a lot of love to give, I just don’t necessarily commit to relationships.

We lived happily together before he started his journey in the Navy a year ago. He is now on his first deployment (9 months with 10 days off half way through) and I want to ask him for an open relationship while he is gone.

He is very accepting of my erratic personality and in April I tried to ‘take a break’ as I needed my time to be my time. The relationship lines ended up blurred and I kissed, got to know & slept with a handful of people, but didn’t do it in the best way, therefore I hurt my boyfriend.

He chose to accept that it happened and move on, which is far more than I could have asked. I don’t have boundaries. I love meeting new people and getting to know everything about them and will always find myself attracted to a person I connect with (not necessarily sexually).

Am I poly? Is this a case of right person wrong time? Maybe I’m just a massive slut? How do I ask the man of my dreams for an open relationship when he is stuck on a boat with no open relationship options of his own? I know that he wouldn’t want to explore that for himself anyway, as he is very much a monogamous person. I don’t want to cheat and I don’t want break up. I just have a lot of love to give.

— Home, Not Alone

What advice do you have for this sailor’s girlfriend?
Chime in below!


  1. Beginning with Vietnam and continuing up to the current day, I know of several marriages where the male on deployment told his wife that as long as he didn’t hear about anything when he returned, and that she was to be faithfully his while he was home, he didn’t care what she did while he was gone. It wasn’t common, but it did happen. I don’t know the long term outcome of any of these relationships.

  2. You are who you are and he is who he is. You can either accept each other as you are or you can go your separate ways. It’s just that simple. He may not have a lot of options on the ship to explore his poly side, but take it from a former Sailor (me) ships do port and there are usually women waiting ashore. Definitely have this talk ASAP. BEFORE he deploys.

  3. Personally, I would be ok with this but I have a liberal attitude towards sex. You see, I understand that it’s possible for two people to love each other, want a future together but still want to explore their sexuality, that that’s fine. so long as boundaries are set:

    -keep it out of the house.
    -use a condom every time.
    -don’t lie about it.
    -each other’s friends are out of bounds.

  4. I wouldn’t ask in the middle of deployment. You need to be face to face, and have some time to sit back and think, then respond for this discussion. Maybe during the 10 days, in this case. If he hadn’t left yet, I would say that this is a reasonable part of the “How are we going to make distance work?” conversation.

    However, as someone in an open relationship, I think that your bigger problem will be your description of yourself as “no boundaries”. An open relationship is generally not the same as no boundaries. Are you able to keep whatever agreements he may want? If he says nobody he knows, will you do that? If he says he’s not comfortable with one consistent other person but one night stands are okay, will you do that? Open relationships generally need more clarity and respect for boundaries, not less.

    1. Kb, this line is right on: “An open relationship is generally not the same as no boundaries.” YES to that! People mistakenly assume that non-monogamy means that you don’t need rules. Actually, non-monogamy means you have to make up your own rules — which can be both freeing but also a huge responsibility. And once you’ve made up your own rules, you still have to keep them. “No boundaries” doesn’t count as a rule, by the way 🙂

  5. For the sake of argument, let us ignore the presence of female sailors. Who are on his ship. And at the bases he visits.

    As you describe yourself you cannot have a monogamous relationship with a man who is away as much as your guy is. Ask him for a DADT relationship. If he says “no,” one or both of you will soon be liars, so end the relationship…with the understanding that you are both free to fall passionately into one anothers’ arms when the ship is in port.

    Be aware that relationships like this, no matter what you do, are inherently unstable. Hormones will win out, no matter what. Make no plans that ignore such basic biology.

  6. … as opposed each of you cheating secretly – you with some guy and him with hookers – like every other military couple under the sun? Yes, you should bring up an honest open relationship.

    As for “no open relationship option of his own…” Like I said, hookers. I don’t mean to freak you out here, but it’s INCREDIBLY common among military men.

    Are you cool with THAT? ‘Cuz that’s his option.

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