Swiping on Tinder is so much more time-consuming when you're also busy planning a wedding.
Just ask Michael and Zara. The twentysomething couple, who chose to use pseudonyms for this interview for their privacy, recently got engaged after dating for three-and-a-half years. Last year, the Los Angeles-based pair made the mutual decision to scour dating apps for threesome partners and other couples to hook up with.
"So far, we have only gone on these dates together," Michael told us. "It has been a very fun experience, especially being able to elicit those feelings of excitement, flirty nervousness and jitters that come with a first date."
Couples' profiles can verge on creepy, or at least overtly sexual, but Michael and Zara's Tinder profiles are far from it: Right up front, Michael's profile mentions that he and his fiancée are looking for down-to-earth people. Once you scroll past his solo pic, there's plenty of couple selfies to confirm his and Zara's coupledom.
Since creating the accounts, the pair have been on dozens of dates. Some are better than others, but even when the date is lackluster, Michael and Zara always get to go home with their favourite person. It's a win-win.
Below, we talk to Michael and Zara about their dating app "rules", their best dates so far and how their relationship has changed since Tinder.
How did you guys come to the decision to open up your relationship? Who broached the subject? What was the conversation like?
Zara: It was something we'd been joking about for a few months. Then I had an injury that kept me bored at home and I wanted to make having a threesome my new project. It was much easier than I thought it would be. We joined an app called Feeld (formerly 3nder) and just started chatting with a few people.
Michael: We always talked about it as a way to have some extra fun in our relationship and meet new people, so there was never a moment we had to sit each other down and say, "We need to have a serious conversation about opening up our relationship." We just decided to entertain the joke and see where it took us.
Do you both have accounts? Who's been more successful in finding people?
Zara: I have a separate Tinder account that I use for my own dates. I look mostly for women or couples. Michael looks for anyone he thinks will interest either or both of us. I'm primarily interested in using Tinder to connect one-on-one with other women as I feel like I've had my fair share of experiences dating cis-hetero men.
Michael: I have various profiles, some of which are connected up with Zara or mention her. I will usually quickly make it clear to anyone I am chatting with that Zara and I are looking for dates together.
I tend to not want to spend a lot of time chatting unless I think it's likely to turn into a date. That was the case when I was single as well. So I will usually talk to Zara about who I have matched with to gauge her interest in going on a date with them. If she isn't interested, more often than not I will let the conversation with the other person or couple die off online. We are both pretty successful at finding matches. The struggle is finding people we are both interested in going on dates with. At this time, Zara is open to going on some solo dates with women, and I am exploring doing the same with some men.
Did you have any idea going into the relationship that either of you would be willing to explore an open relationship?
Michael: It was not necessarily a goal I had for my relationships, but dating or sleeping with other people felt like a natural progression from a monogamous relationship where we both felt very secure. In a past long-term relationship of mine, my ex actually pushed for something similar but our relationship was very rocky. Given the bad state of the relationship, the idea at the time was very off-putting to me and we never pursued it.
Zara: Before this, I don't think I thought I'd be able to do it. I'd dabbled in group sex, but never with my own partner involved. I thought I would be too jealous and too possessive or distrustful, but then again, I didn't think I'd ever be in a very stable loving relationship, either. I also thought that I had a finite amount of love to give and that splitting that between my primary partner and someone else would somehow lessen the love I had for Michael, but I've found that to be untrue.
How many people have you met and hooked up with through dating apps?
Zara: We've probably been on about a dozen or so dates from the various apps we're on, Tinder and Feeld.
Michael, you said you love the "feelings of excitement, flirty nervousness and jitters that come with first date". Zara, would you describe it similarly?
Zara: I would. Michael and I were exclusive with one another for two years before we decided to open our relationship. When we started dating again, there was a lot of nervousness because we'd felt out of the loop of dating and also we were embarking on this whole new adventure of dating together. I remember our first date we had with another person, I told Michael as we were crossing the street to the bar, "This will be fine. Either it sucks and the two of us go home and have sex with each other, or it's awesome and the three of us go home and have sex with each other."
What's the best date you guys have been on so far?
Zara: I think our best date was with another couple who we clicked with right off the bat and we ended up with a crush on them afterwards, but they ghosted us, which was like, "Damn, that still stings."
Michael: We crushed so hard on that couple, but looking back now it seems so silly. Ghosting still hurts, but we moved on.
What's the general reaction from people when they realise you're actually a couple and not an individual? Has anyone ever been like, "Well, I kind of just wanted to meet with you... "
Zara: Straight men and some couples have tried to only meet up with me and I tell them that I don't play alone (unless you're a single woman). And then we usually unmatch with those people because they can get pushy. I think couples are easier to date because we all understand that it's a group activity.
Michael: Most people will just say, "Good for you guys, but I'm not really into that."
What "rules", if any, do you have about looking for hookups on dating apps?
Zara: We never set any real rules. I think our only rule when we started out was that we didn't want to bring anyone into our relationship. Our bedroom, yes, but our relationship was always going to remain just the two of us. And it's not a rule, but we do like to read over each other's chats or texts with someone that we're talking to.
I think Michael and I are pretty monogamous even though we do have sex with people outside of our relationship. It still feels like a closed off relationship and very much our own. Zara
How do you each define monogamy?
Michael: Monogamy for me is all about partners putting each other's needs and feelings at a high priority in their lives, along with communication that keeps you both on the same page and allows you to make important decisions together. In that context, an open relationship or dating doesn't really threaten our monogamy.
Zara: For me, I think Michael and I are pretty monogamous, even though we do have sex with people outside of our relationship. It still feels like a closed off relationship and very much our own.
Have you renegotiated what it means to be in an open relationship as you've gotten further along into this?
Zara: When we first started, I remember Michael wasn't as interested in the idea of me having sex without him. I feel like that's changed for both of us.
Michael: Yeah, initially I was unsure how I would feel going on another date with a straight guy who was just interested in having sex with Zara. But once we did it, I quickly realised that I was comfortable with it. In addition to actually enjoying that type of sexual experience, I also realised many of the people interested in that type of thing are still fun to go on those three-way dates with. I even became friends with one of the straight men we went on a date with. In that case, we all naturally decided to stop dating or hooking up with one another and just let it be a friendship.
You're engaged. Do you think you'll continue to have an open relationship after you're married?
Zara: Possibly! We've slowed down a lot of our "extracurricular dating activities" due to just getting busy with life, work ― I work in film and Michael's an engineer ― and planning a wedding. We're still chatting and on the apps, but just haven't had the time or energy to meet up with anyone lately.
Michael: Hopefully things slow down again so we can get back out there.
Zara: Get back into the swing of things. Pun intended.
What's your best advice for couples who may want explore an open relationship?
Zara: Communication! And that doesn't just mean speaking your mind, but listening. I think what works for us is that we can pick up on each other's cues pretty easily, so we're pretty much always on the same page.
Michael: You'll really be better off if you rid yourselves of jealousy, or at least stay well within the bounds of things you are comfortable with. Jealous drama is just going to take away from the fun.