My Girlfriend Wants an Open Relationship. Do I?

My girlfriend and I will soon be 30. We’ve been dating for two years, about half of that time exclusively. One night, we were spit-balling about our future. I assumed we’d get married relatively soon. But my girlfriend surprised me: She said she loves me, but she does not think being in a monogamous relationship for the rest of her life will work for her. She said she does not want to break up and she’s always been faithful to me. But she’d like to explore the possibility of opening our relationship to others – with our relationship being the primary one. This is not what I pictured for myself! Any advice?

BOYFRIEND

I get being surprised. Your girlfriend introduced a major plot twist. But “surprised” is a reaction, not a considered response. Your job now (or soon) is to talk to her and figure out whether you’re open to an open relationship. Your answer may be no, but do not dismiss the idea simply because you weren’t expecting it.

Frankly, I admire your girlfriend’s honesty. I think you should, too – no matter what you decide. If more of us were candid with our partners about the challenges we face in our relationships, instead of bottling them up, we might make fewer messes down the road. Commitment is hard work. And sometimes, simply naming a problem can take some of the sting out of it – and lead to productive discussion, too.

Now, we do not know the specifics of your girlfriend’s proposal. Is she talking about sex or full-blown relationships with other people? How would your household work? Do kids fit into this picture? If you’re open to exploring these questions with her, dig in! If, after consideration, you decide that remaining monogamous is your preference, respond to her honesty with your own.

For Mother’s Day, a dear friend made a donation in my name to a worthwhile charity she supports. I appreciate the thought, but I would have much preferred it if she’d donated to a charity I support. Worse, I then felt compelled to thank her for donating to her charity. What are your thoughts about this?

FRIEND

Take a step back: A dear friend (who is not your child or relative) went to the trouble of remembering you on Mother’s Day with a gift to a charity that’s “worthwhile” but not your favorite. Because of this, you can muster sincere gratitude for her gift and resent thanking her. I do not think you want to be this person.

I would feel different if you opposed the work of the chosen charity, but that does not seem to be the case. Granted, this is not a perfect gift, but it’s still a kind of gesture. Thank your friend and try to put your grievance into perspective. (Now, cue the cranks who will write in about your friend taking a charitable deduction on a gift that’s supposed to be for you.) Pettiness rarely brings joy.

My brother and I no longer speak. (We fought over politics, and he’s been rude to my husband because he envies his success.) But he has two teenage kids whom I’d like to stay connected to. I am their only aunt. We’ve never been super close; I do not live nearby. But I’ve always maintained a relationship with them through holiday and birthday gifts, occasional texts and Zoom calls. Since the falling out with my brother, one child hasn’t responded to me, and the other seems less inclined to stay in touch. Should I keep initiating contact, or it that awkward?

AUNT

I sympathize with your desire to stay connected, but it does not seem as if your brother’s children reciprocate your feelings now – which isn’t to say they never will. They may know about your conflict with their father, which could make them feel awkward or disloyal around you. Or maybe they’re just being teenagers who are wrapped up in their own world.

The next time you would naturally send them a card or gift, include a note that soft pedals the conflict and emphasizes your affection for them: “Your father and I aren’t getting along right now, but I’m always here for you. Call or text whenever you feel like it. I love you. ” Then follow their lead. No response is a response – for now. It may also be a reason to consider détente with your brother.

Standing in line with my infant son, an elderly woman behind us started pinching his legs lightly and said what a “well-fed boy” I have. It really bothered me that she was touching him, but I did not want to offend her. So, I said nothing. Should I have?

DAVID

Here’s the thing: We can be respectful to other people even if we need to shut them down. You have an absolute duty to protect your son (and fend off grabby strangers). You do not have to be angry about it, though, in every instance. Here, the older woman probably meant well, even though she was off base. Be direct. Say: “Please do not touch my baby without asking permission.” How others respond to reasonable requests is on them, not you.


For help with your awkward situation, send a question to SocialQ@nytimes.com, to Philip Galanes on Facebook or @SocialQPhilip on Twitter.

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