Ask Jay: Testing the waters of an open relationship and liking specific physical traits

Exploring new territory asks: I started dating this guy a while ago. I told him early on I was used to open relationships and he seemed okay with that. But with COVID it's been hard to get out, let alone date. Now I'm all vaxxed and restrictions are letting up and I wanna see about seeing other people. But I don't know if my boyfriend is really okay with it, or if he just said that because it sounded good and we couldn't do anything about it? What can we do now? I want to get back out there, not sure if he's ready for what that looks like.

Jay answers: The best thing I can suggest is to bring up the conversation again. You didn't say how long ago you had the first talk about open relationships and I don't know what the details were. I'm guessing though and working under the assumption the relationship was new at the time. Everything at the time was likely fresh and exciting, probably anything you said sounded like a fun idea to him at the time.

Now some time has passed and what sounded good in theory may or may not sound as appealing once you have the opportunity to follow through and actually be intimate with someone else.
COVID lockdown is ending? I gotta get out there!

If I were in your shoes I'd want to have that conversation about opening up again. Let your guy know you're happy with him, but you're also still pro open relationship. Ask him how he feels about the idea. Ask him if he's okay with the idea of you being with other people and, if so, how much he wants to know about your other connections. See if he also wants to be involved with other people and, if so, let him know how much you want to be kept in the loop.

This is also a good opportunity to invite him to really think about the potential of you seeing other people and setting aside time to consider ground rules for the two of you. Stuff like where dates can take place, when to check in, how to schedule your own dates together around dates with other people, and so on.

You might also want to see if your guy is interested in inviting other people (singles or couples) to join you two in bed as a team. Or would the two of you both prefer to only be involved with new people separately? In other words, does "open" in this context mean threesomes or separate date nights a few times per month?
Is three people a crowd or company?

Once you've had a chance to chat about this a little, I'd recommend letting it sit for a bit. Maybe give both of you a week to consider what each other has said, then have the conversation again to clarify any points and confirm neither of you have changed your minds. Sometimes people like (or dislike) ideas sprung on them in the moment, but change their opinions once the thought has had time to settle. Good luck!

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Preference versus fetish asks: What is the difference between fetishizing someone and merely having a physical preference?

Jay answers: I'm not sure if this question has an easy answer. My partner, Elle, and I discussed this query a bit and we feel that there is a difference. Most of us have personal preferences about a person's physical characteristics. Some people like seeing a guy with a beard, some folks find tattoos exciting, and some people think red hair is sexy. Personally, I find freckles adorable.

There is nothing wrong with finding certain traits particularly exciting or attractive. Lots of ladies like tall men, lots of men like big breasts. It's fine and healthy to find other people's characteristics extra attractive.

Fetishizing though feels like an extreme version of a personal preference, to the point of objectifying a person who has certain traits. When we fetishize a trait, we're not appreciating the person who has those traits as a whole, we're seeing them as an object, a vehicle, for the traits we desire.

As an example, I like red hair. I think it's exotic. There have been times when I've dated women with red hair (sometimes natural, sometimes dyed) and it's been a nice bonus to see them with bright, flaming hair. For me, it's not all that different from seeing my partner in lingerie, or in a sexy costume - it's a nice bonus which adds a little excitement to our connection. A connection which has other facets.
I'm sure you see the appeal?

In my case I didn't go out specifically looking for women with red hair, it wasn't my goal to date a redhead. It was a pleasant bonus. I feel this sets my appreciation for redheads apart from a fetish or the act of fetishizing someone.

When someone is fetishizing another person, the trait they desire moves further up the priority list, maybe even to the top. Being with the other person becomes less about what they enjoy about that person as a whole and focuses on getting access to their target fetish.

In other words, if you're with a guy specifically because he's tall, or with a woman primarily because she's from an Asian background, then you're fetishizing the person - or the person's traits. But if you like a person and happen to appreciate they're tall (or have other features you find appealing) then you're probably engaging in harmless enjoyment of your personal preference.