Should I embark on an open relationship?

2nd May, 2009

Dear Economist,
My partner and I have well-defined boundaries to our relationship; they are already liberal, and we are now considering permitting liaisons with others. The benefits for my partner are enormous, as she is an attractive young woman interested in men and women alike.
I, on the other hand, am an awkward wallflower of unremarkable appearance, who has trouble attracting women. Or at least I was until I met my partner. In the years we’ve been together, I’ve received a startling amount of unsolicited attention from women who would not have looked at me twice when I was single.
Can economics explain why I’m unappealing as a singleton, but hot property when with a stunning girlfriend? More importantly, will I still be hot property in a non-monogamous setup? As a consumer I seem to be able to have my cake and eat it, but as a commodity, can I both be had and eaten?
Confused, Paradise

Dear Confused,

Your sudden attractiveness does indeed have an economic explanation: your new admirers are rationally inferring information about you from the behaviour of your partner. She is vivacious, beautiful and intelligent, and yet she dates you; ergo you have hidden assets.

I am not sure an open relationship is wise. You are right to point out that your partner has much to gain from such an arrangement. Onlookers would rightly conclude that her commitment to you has few downsides for her, so doesn’t convey much of a signal that you are a hidden gem. There is another risk. Through her experiments, your partner may discover an alternative lover who insists on a monogamous relationship. Monogamy may be a price worth paying, given that she is currently dating “an awkward wallflower of unremarkable appearance”. You currently live in paradise; don’t risk being cast out.

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