Monday, January 23, 2012

Transitioning from Open to Poly

Transitioning from an Open Relationship to a Poly Relationship

Last spring, I, Mimi, developed a crush on a past acquaintance of Marc’s.  Marc and Scott had long ago lived in the same apartment building and hung out a few times, but they hadn’t spoken or seen each other in about 13 years.

 When they became FB friends, I notice something about Scott and Marc’s exchanges that made me sit up and take notice, and so it didn’t take long for me to “friend” him.  After a bit of harmless flirting on each other’s FB walls and a bit of encouragement from a cousin, I sent Scott a message telling him I have a crush on his FB personae.  He responded with a little bit of excitement and a whole lot of trepidation.  He knew Marc and I are in an open relationship but, at the time, had no idea how it works.  He also was not, in any way, looking for any kind of relationship. 

I was persistent, however, so after many FB and text messages, a few 3-4 hour phone conversations, and one spontaneous “date” in an airport during a layover between Denver and New Orleans, we were in a hot and heavy cyber relationship.  Our cyber affair was a lot about sex, but it was also (if not equally) a lot about long and intimate conversations about our lives.

A couple months later, Marc and I were renting a house on the northern California coast for the summer.  Marc had briefly returned to New Orleans for a photo shoot, and Scott and I were having our weekly “phone date”.

Scott was talking about his work when, at one point, he said, “Right now, you’re probably thinking I’m crazy.”  

I chuckled and said, “That’s not what I was thinking.”

There was a long pause.  “Well, what were you thinking?”

I didn’t hesitate at all.  “I was thinking I love you.”

I heard him sort of catch his breath.  Then he responded by saying, “Really?”  I was about to say “yes” when he said, “I love you, too, Mimi.” 

The next day, when Marc and I talked on the phone, he asked me if I told Scott that I love him.  Marc had suggested we were falling in love before, so it was definitely on the radar. 

I said, “Yes, I did. And he said that he loves me, too.”   Suddenly, Marc and I were no longer just having an open relationship; we were doing polyamory. 

The way we—and many others—see it, an open relationship is when partners can have sex with people outside of the relationship.  Polyamory means multiple loves—poly (multiple) amour (love). 
Why the distinction? 

There are poly relationships that are not open.  Multiple partners are in emotionally intimate and committed relationship to each other, but all agree not to have sexual relations with anyone outside of the plural relationship.  Polyamorous, but not open.  On the other hand, there are open relationships that are not polyamorous.   Partners in a relationship can be sexually involved with others outside of the relationship, but there is no emotional intimacy or commitment to others outside of the relationship.  Open, but not polyamorous.

When Scott and I started to feel emotional intimacy and love for each other, and especially when we acknowledged it, the three of us found ourselves in a polyamorous relationship.  Scott and Marc are not sexually or emotionally involved with each other, but I am sexually and emotionally involved with both of them.  Because they love me and I love them, we are poly partners.

We will probably blog in the future about how we are negotiating polyamory with each other, and perhaps ask for a guest blog from Scott now and then, but for now, we thought we’d offer our perspectives on that transition from “open” to “poly”.

So what is it like to transition from being open to being poly?

My ideal for our open relationship involved casual intimate relationships with others, and I had no intention of pursuing a much deeper, emotionally intimate relationship with the women whom I was interested in.   However, I did know that Mimi felt differently, and wanted to pursue this more intimate relationship, if the opportunity appeared.  I figured I would just deal with the feelings that this type of relationship would bring up in me when, or if, the time came.  Hearing your partner say that she is in love with someone else, even in an open relationship, was difficult and scary to me initially.

When Mimi and I opened our relationship initially in 2005, and then re-jiggered things in 2006, we both agreed that we’d each have “veto” rights regarding the other’s relationship with external partners.  I thought I’d be using that in a scenario where it seemed that Mimi was getting “too close” to someone else, which represented, in my mind, a threat to our relationship. 

I think we are influenced by convention and normativity throughout our lives, and one of those conventional, hegemonic “norms” is that people can only truly love one other person at a time.  When Mimi told me that she loves Scott, but that she still loves me, more than ever, it was hard to believe that this could be possible.  I had always told her that yes, it’s tough to deal with insecurities and jealousies that can occur when your partner is physically intimate with someone else, and that, I can rationalize and deal with, but what the Big Kahuna for me was this “LOVE” thing. 

I differ on the definition of what is happening in our life at the moment.  For me, it seems as though since Mimi is in a loving relationship with Scott and since she is also in a loving relationship with me, SHE is in a polyamorous relationship.  I am in an open relationship with Mimi and since I’m not in an emotional or physical relationship with Scott, it doesn’t feel like the three of us are “doing polyamory” per se, BUT since Mimi and Scott have decided to pursue this type of relationship, we all three have to negotiate what for me has been heretofore uncharted waters.  The closest thing we had experienced in the past was when Mimi and I dated a woman for about 9 months The three of us were physically intimate with each other, and had a friendship–level emotional connection, but none of us became so emotionally intimate that the terms “love” or “polyamory” really came up. 

For a while, I felt like Scott got the good stuff without any of the speed bumps – he got to enjoy his relationship with Mimi, while Mimi and I did a lot of difficult negotiation and mutual establishment of boundaries, but once the three of us sat down TOGETHER and hammered out some ground rules and came up with boundaries we were all comfortable with, it was better for me.  I think it was better all the way around. 

In doing this negotiation, I feel as though I’m participating in their relationship, and by default, Scott participates in Mimi and my negotiation, and we all three have a relationship to each other, but I am personally moving forward in what I consider to be an “open” rather than polyamorous relationship with Mimi, while she has a relationship to Scott and to me that she considers “polyamorous”. 

Again, all of the negotiation is work that we both choose to do as we think it helps us evolve as humans, helps us do emotional work that we would need to do regardless, and, in the long, run, will bring us both closer to each other.

So, yeah, it can get complicated, but again, like we mention in most of our blogs, as long as all concerned parties are kept in the loop, are consenting and honest, it can be done well.

I don’t really draw a line between sexual and emotional intimacy.  That is not to say that I don’t sometimes experience sexual intimacy without emotional connection or that I want to f#&k everyone I get close to.  I can be just into the sex part and I have many people in my life I love but with whom I have no interest in being sexual. 

But when the sexual chemistry and the emotional intimacy are there, I go with it.  I want to go with it.  It’s so rare and beautiful, and I really do love that combination.  And that’s exactly what happened with Scott.  Just as it doesn’t make sense to me to cut off my erotic desire for others because of my commitment to Marc, it doesn’t make sense to me to cut off emotional intimacy with others either. 

The transition to polyamory was, for me, the most natural thing in the world.  In fact, it didn’t feel so much like a transition as an inevitable development, and I have told Marc and Scott and a few others that I feel more at home and comfortable in my self now than before. 

Even though it feels natural to me and I have absolutely no doubt that I can love more than one partner (I’ve loved more than one partner before Marc or Scott), that doesn’t make it any easier on Marc (or Scott, for that matter).  Introducing emotional intimacy and the possibility of a long term poly relationship to the dynamic changes everything and requires a whole different kind of work and play to do it successfully.  We’ll get more into this later on the blog, so I won’t go into detail about the nature of the work here, but let me tell you, polyamory takes a shit load of time and energy.  Sometimes I think polyamory should be like getting that RV and touring the country or moving to Florida—wait until you retire and have the time! 

The big difference, I think, between being open and doing polyamory is the perceived threat to the primary partner (Marc in this case).

In a mono-normative culture (a culture that insists that the only viable, moral, natural kind of relationship is one with two people who are monogamous), the dyad (two and only two people) is the only way to do committed, emotionally intimate sexual relationships.  Within this logic, introducing a third person poses an enormous threat.  In our case, this logic says that I, Mimi, am going to have to eventually choose either Marc or Scott to re-establish a dyad.  But if you let go of the idea of the compulsory dyad, and there is no requirement that I choose Marc or Scott, my love for Scott doesn’t pose a threat to my bond with Marc.  I never have to choose so neither one is the other’s adversary or competitor. 

Now, if Scott insisted on monogamy or even an open dyadic relationship with me, then he would pose a threat to my primary relationship with Marc.  I have experienced this in the past—a lover expressing a desire to have me “all for himself”.  In that case, I ended the relationship.  Marc is my primary partner.  That isn’t going to change, so above all else, I protect that bond.  Scott knows and accepts this, and so it works. 

And, so far, both Marc and Scott are willing to do the work and play around this, and I couldn’t be more grateful and thus, committed to Marc and open to Scott.  

Sunday, January 15, 2012

The First (kind of) Threesome

The First (kind of) Threesome

Marc and I had been lovers for about four months when we took our first trip to Paris.  I had spent some time in Paris doing research and was already in deep love with the city. I guess you could say I’m poly-chez (I have more than one place I call home—Paris and New Orleans.  I’m all about the French knot).   

On that trip, we didn’t see much daylight.  We spent our nights exploring the dance clubs and waking at 9am for the complementary croissants, jam, and coffee delivered to our room and then falling back asleep until mid to late afternoon.  A vampire’s life in Paris, including the hunt for warm bodies.

One night, we found ourselves at Le Queen.  For those of you who don’t speak French, the name of the bar is a lovely gender f@$k. “Le” signifies masculine gender and “Queen”…well, you get the drift.  It’s not our favorite queer bar in Paris, but as explorers at the time, we were down with the mixture of tourists from all over the world interested in taking a walk on the wild side of a “mixed bar”(In Paris, that means hetero, homo, in between, and beyond are welcome).  It’s a great club if you’re interested in pretty tourists paying a hefty cover charge and outrageous prices for drinks to get their freak on—like us. 

So we were getting into our groove and checking out the Lindas (see previous blog) and Brads (that’s our code word for hot women, but it never did stick in the M&M lexicon because there isn’t the risk of homophobic violence when a woman checks out another woman and so, a code word was superfluous).  In the mix of undulating bodies, I paired off with an Algerian man and Marc was working his moves on a Swedish woman.  Though we were temporarily occupied with another, we maintained our connection to each other through eye contact.

I was interested in getting the four of us into a group grind on the dance floor, so I beckoned my dance partner and slowly made my way toward Marc.  When close enough, I rubbed my body on Marc and then turned again toward the handsome young stranger.

He looked at Marc and then leaned in to my ear.  “Is that your boyfriend?”

“Yeah.  Isn’t he sexy?”

The Algerian pulled me close so I could feel that he was “enjoying” the dancing, laid a sweet kiss on my cheek, and moved away only to disappear in the sea of hungry bodies. 

I squelched a small bit of disappointment—he was definitely Linda--and kept dancing while I gradually moved away from Marc and his dance partner so I could watch.  We were new lovers, so there was no way Marc could know how to handle the situation.  Should he abandon the Swede and come dance with me?  Should he invite me in to their fun?  With more than a bit of concern, he looked at me as if to ask, “What should I do now?”

To encourage him to maintain the current arrangement, I gave him a coy smile and a nod toward his dance partner to let him know that, for now, I was happy with the role of voyeur.  Taking my cue, he refocused on the Swedish woman while he watched me watch.

When I signaled to him that it was time to leave, he was at my side.  I wasn’t ready for the night to end, so as we were heading out, I said, “Invite your friend to come with us.”

With a huge grin, he pulled my hips into his.  “Are you sure?”

I smiled and said, “Yes.”

The negotiation of her coming with us is something that only Marc can tell, but before I knew it, I was being introduced to Inga, the woman Marc was dancing with, and her friend Annika (not their real names—as will be the case in all our posts), and we were hailing a taxi on the Champs Elyse.  Apparently, Annika refused to let Inga leave alone with us so insisted on joining us as a chaperone of sorts.  I immediately liked Annika.

Once in our hotel room, Marc, always the gracious host, offered everyone a drink.
While he poured each of us a nip of whiskey, Annika, Inga, and I settled on to the bed.  If you’ve never stayed in a relatively affordable hotel in Paris you might be thinking “Three women on a bed…bowng chicka bowng”; it wasn’t that way.  The rooms are so small in Paris that, if you don’t sit on the bed, you’re in the hallway. 

So there we were--Marc and I and two relative strangers--sitting on the bed in our hotel room. The mood was…well, uncomfortable.  Something had to be done, so I reached into my proverbial bag of fairy dust and asked, “Have either of you heard of the American game Truth or Dare?”  

There is probably a version of this game in every culture, but the Swedes were down with playing the American version.  When they agreed, Marc looked at me.  I immediately understood the look of gratitude—a look I saw in the club when I told him to invite her and that I would come to cherish in the years to come.

Truth or Dare was now the name of the game.  We did the truth thing for a while, giggling and revealing not-so-intimate information to each other in our American and Swedish accents.  All of us had sex we regretted. All of us had been in love.  We all shed our virginities in our teens.  And…none of us had ever had a threesome or group sex.  This was going to be interesting.

Things were moving along pretty well as far as the game of “Truth” was going when Marc decided to take on a Dare.  Eyes wide, Inga, Annika, and I looked at each other with devilish grins.  As we discussed what the dare would be, I kept my eyes on Marc trying to read his level of comfort.  He seemed to be enjoying the negotiation.  Inga suggested Marc do a dance.  Riffing on her suggestion, I suggested a striptease which pleased Inga and Annika, but I saw a flash of fear wash over Marc’s face before he laughed and said,  “I don’t know.  Really? A striptease?”

Annika and Inga were practically jumping up and down clapping, while I tried to read Marc’s reluctance.  “You don’t have to if you don’t want to.”

“No.  I didn’t say I didn’t want to.”  I was impressed with his willingness to play.  “I don’t know if I’d be comfortable with the tease part of it.  I might be willing to strip, but not in front of all of you.” 

Being a queer, fairy-dust-spreading sort of gal, I said, “Okay. If you go in the bathroom and take off your clothes, we’ll take off our shirts and you can kiss each of our breasts.”  I looked at Inga and Annika resting comfortably on the pillows.  Much to my surprise, they smiled and said, “Okay.”

If Marc had an expression of gratitude when I suggested playing Truth or Dare, the look he gave me then was absolute adoration. It said, “You have me.  I will spend my life giving and doing absolutely anything and everything your heart desires.”  I really like that look. 

Marc disappeared into the bathroom and, giggling, I pulled off my shirt and bra, and they followed.  So there we were, three women propped up against the headboard, our breasts saying “Hello” to each other, when I called Marc back into the room. 

Marc walked out, and he was completely naked.  We all giggled more as he methodically smooched all six of our breasts.  When he got to Inga, she lifted his face to kiss him.  As they got lost in each other’s mouths, Annika stood up, and gathering her bra and blouse, whispered, “I think I’m going to be in the bathroom for awhile.” 

Marc stopped kissing Inga and said, “You don’t have to do that.  If you’re uncomfortable, we’ll stop.” He stood up, went to the bathroom and came out in his boxers. 

Annika said, “It’s okay.  I’ll just wait in the bathroom,” and scooted by Marc and closed the door. 

Marc and Inga resumed their lip lock on the bed while I slowly moved in closer. When I touched Inga, she looked at me and shook her head.  “I’m not into girls.”

I was tossed out of the loop and once again relegated to the status of voyeur.  This is actually a fairly common occurrence in a threesome situation. In a 2 gals one guy scenario, however, it’s usually the guy who plays voyeur most of the time.  This time, it was clear I was going to do the watching.

I sat on the periphery and watched Marc and Inga roll around on the bed.  The whole time, Marc was obviously enjoying himself with Inga, but his eyes were always on me as if to say, “This is about you and me, baby.”  It was a huge turn-on, and I loved it.  Every once I awhile I’d glance at the bathroom door and wonder what Annika was doing, but I was pretty in to what was going on between Marc and Inga and between me and Marc, so I stayed where I was rather than check on her.  

I didn’t know at the time, but Inga had conveyed to Marc that she wasn’t going to have intercourse with him, but was very much enjoying the making out part.  It seemed like a lot of time passed and they were still just kissing.  If I was going to play voyeur for the rest of the evening, I wanted something to watch, so I decided to let Marc know that I was okay with the two of them getting more “intimate”.

Holding eye contact with Marc, I mouthed, “Lick her.” Marc didn’t seem to understand that I was trying to convey an interest in watching him go down on her, so this time I whispered instead of just mouthed, “Lick her.” 

Inga must have heard me and abruptly sat up and said in an angry Swedish accent, “What did you say?”

I paused, my mind reeling.  She was staring at me while Marc cringed.  I had to say something.  “I said, ‘Liquor’.  We’re all out of liquor.”  

Miraculously, it worked.  As Inga settled back down for some more kissing, Marc stared at me with his mouth hanging open.  He might have mouthed, “I love you.”

Some time later, Annika emerged from the bathroom and said something in Swedish.  Inga pushed Marc away and said, “We have to go now.” 

We all joked about how the sun was coming up as Inga and Annika thanked us, gave us a kiss kiss on our cheeks, and, as if nothing happened, cheerfully left. 

It wasn’t exactly a “threesome”, but it definitely laid the groundwork for what was to come in terms of inviting others in.

Marc and I didn’t know each other that well when we embarked on this particular adventure.  In fact, I don’t think we even discussed having a threesome.  So the relative ease with which it all went down (between me and Marc, anyway) and the comfort I felt at every turn had everything to do with Marc and I being on the same wavelength and knowing it. 

The key for me was the eye contact and connection that Marc and I had throughout the whole experience.  As a couple (awkwardly) inviting someone else in, it was important to let each other know that it was about us having a playful and exciting experience together. If either one of us turned our complete attention on another person, it wouldn’t have worked, especially the first time.  But neither one of did that.  Marc was brilliant at keeping it about us though he was getting all of the action.  He demonstrated to me something we call, erotic intelligence, and it made me trust him, relax, and take pleasure in his pleasure. 

I didn’t feel one pang of sexual jealousy the whole time, and this is generally the case when others are involved in our play.  That is not to say that each of us, at some times, hasn’t been overwhelmed with jealousy in a situation like this. 

For example, many years later, Marc and I ran into one of his lovers at a bar in New Orleans.  We all ended up in bed together, and things were fun and playful until I thought I saw them make the sort of eye contact I’m talking about.  That sort of “we-know-what’s-going-on-here,” and “this-is-about-us” eye contact.  I freaked.  Seriously, totally freaked out.  I jumped up and said something like, “Obviously this is about you two.  I’m out of here,” and left the room.   I will never really know if that’s what was going on between them, but at the moment, it was my reality and it was both terrifying and painful.  Marc and I had to do a whole lot of work to repair the damage done with that one look. 

That first time in Paris, however, even though it was awkward and perhaps irresponsible (after all, we left Annika in the bathroom), we were so together and it was so wonderfully playful.  The key to a good threesome, at least for me, is that it’s playful.  Things can get pretty ugly if everybody gets real serious.  That night, I learned that Marc and I play well together and that he gets it.  He could see where I was going and I could see him, and together we held on to each other while opening ourselves to someone new.  And I thought to myself, “Yeah, I’d like to do that again, only next time, I’m not playing the voyeur.” 

That was certainly a fun night.  Paris was intoxicating.  It was my first time in this great city, and I wanted to do and see it all.  Le Queen was a loud, pulsating, huge club with drinks that cost about twice as much as what I was used to back in Chicago. 
I remember Inga watching me from the periphery of the dance floor and smiling.  We danced together for quite a while and I do remember glancing periodically at Mimi to make sure she was ok with everything.  We kissed a bit on the dance floor, and then it seemed like it was a good time to head out.  We were all the way to the door when Mimi suggested I go find my Swedish friend and see if she wanted to accompany us home.  It was so late the Metro was no longer running, so the four of us hopped in a cab. 
I really had no idea what to expect and had not yet been fully exposed to the sex-fairy that Mimi can sometimes turn into.  She kept the conversation stimulating, full of innuendo and promise.  Mimi described the situation that followed very well above.  Since it was my first time with multiple partners, I really didn’t know how to move things forward.  I’m generally very cautious when it comes to initiating anything physical or more-than-flirtatious, because I’m always afraid I’ll come off sounding like Joey from the TV show “Friends”:  “How YOU doin’?”  So I play the opposite tack.  I become somewhat passive and figure that if someone wants something to happen, they’ll let me, and in this case US, know.  Mimi definitely played the host with the most and got the ball rolling. 
As I discovered over the years in my relationship with Mimi, threesomes can be tricky.  There are times when all 3 people are fully involved, and times when it’s more of a twosome with a fly buzzing around, trying to figure out what tasty morsel to land on.  When it’s a threesome with 2 women, there are times when it’s the typical guy’s fantasy come true, and times when it’s “well…they obviously don’t need me here…maybe I should go and refill the drinks”.  It was obviously a thrill to be able to act on my desire for Inga, and to experience her desire for me, while also knowing that Mimi was involved and taking pleasure in the scene, but because this was brand new for us as a couple, there was also a sense of worry for me.  I had concerns about what the repercussions of my interactions with Inga would be when we woke up the next day.  I had concerns about whether or not I would do or say something in the throes of passion with Inga that would set Mimi off and cause jealousy or disdain.  As I remember, the next day we discussed it and there was a little bit of friction (the origin of which I can’t remember at the moment) but for the most part, we discussed it and moved forward.  When this occurred, it was the end of month four of our now eleven-year relationship.  I was in for quite a ride!

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Saying "yes" to non-monogamy


Like many New Orleans stories, it all began in a bar.  Well, actually, it began with a bartender--a rather beautiful bartender.  We called him “Linda” which is our code word for a hot dude.  Marc knows my taste and is very generous about drawing my attention to attractive men.  Rather than saying, “Check out that guy.  He's pretty hot," he'll say something like, “ Hey, look!  Is that Linda?”  This way those around us don’t know that we’re sexually objectifying a man in our presence, and Marc doesn't get socked in the mouth for pointing out the obvious.  

We decided to try non-monogamy because I, Mimi, wanted to f$%k the hot bartender.  At this point Marc and I had been together for five years, and in that time, we had several threesomes (and, on a few occasions, foursomes or more) and Linda was in my sights.  In other words, we weren’t exactly monogamous, but neither one of us had ever had a sexual experience with someone without the other present.  Well, there was that one time I was bushed and told Marc and the woman we had in our bed to please take it out of the bedroom so I could get some sleep!  They benevolently obliged.  Besides that one time, though, we had sex with other people together, as a sort of “couples” activity (Some people garden together, but neither one of us has a green thumb), so jumping in to bed with Linda without Marc wasn’t an option…yet. 

So I was working Linda and Marc for a threesome and it was going quite well.  Marc is always skeptical that an ostensibly straight fella would be down with a boy-girl-boy threesome--despite the fact that he's a straight fella and isn't opposed to a threesome with another man--but honestly, I don’t think a man has ever turned us down.  A few women have declined our invitations, but never a man.  They all generally say, “hell yeah!”  I had a hunch Linda wasn’t going to break the streak, but Marc was skeptical. 

We hadn’t had a chance to put the question about a threesome to Linda, and Marc was going to be in Chicago for the weekend.  Because of Marc's skepticism I thought it might make more sense for me to have a date with Linda one-on-one and slowly move toward a three-way date.  Trust me on this:  there will be subsequent blogs about the whole boy on girl on boy thing, as well as the girl on boy on girl arrangement, but for now, all you need to know is that the idea of seducing Linda on my own and then bringing in Marc made a lot of sense to me at the time. I decided to share my plan with Marc.

I knew I’d have to broach the subject carefully.  Simply asking a partner to talk about non-monogamy can feel like a betrayal to the person being asked. Monogamy is the default and, for most people, the only imaginable way to do a relationship.  When one partner expresses an interest in having sex with someone else, the other partner will likely take it personally and see at as a sign of dissatisfaction (we’ll blog about this too).  And so, the approach to raising the topic for discussion with a partner is key.  Don’t just bring it up on your way to see the in-laws or during a spat over whose turn it is to walk the dogs.  Think long and hard about why you want to put non-monogamy on the table, know what you’re going to say and what you want to get out of the discussion, and wait for the right time. 

In our case, we were sitting on the balcony of the house we were living in, sipping wine, and talking—one of our favorite things to do together.  There were no distractions, and we were enjoying each other’s company. I decided it would be good time to bring up my desire for a one-on-one romp with Linda. 

I asked Marc, “So, while you’re gone this weekend, what would you think if I asked Linda out?”

“What do you mean ‘ask him out’?”

“I’m thinking meet him for a drink.”

“I guess that would be okay.”

I paused, thinking carefully about what I would say next.  “How would you feel if I kissed him?”

Marc was quiet for a long time.  “I really don’t think it would bother me all that much.  I mean, I’ve seen you kiss a lot of people.”  We both laughed.  “I guess, what difference does it make if I’m there or not?  It’s really kind of the same thing when you really think about it.  You’re kissing someone else.”

Reaching for the brass ring, I said, “If I’m going to kiss him, and if we’re possibly going to have a threesome with him together someday, would it make a big difference if I have sex with him one-on-one? Either way, I'm having sex with someone else.”

Marc paused, brow creasing.  “Jesus.  That’s a whole other sort of thing.  Isn’t it?  I don’t know.”

“Maybe you could make a date with someone in Chicago so we’re both getting something out of this.” 

This, of course, sweetened the deal for Marc.  “That might be fun.”

Then I said, “Maybe we could treat the weekend like a little experiment.  See what it might be like to have an open relationship.  If it doesn’t go well, we bag it.  But if it goes well…” 

Marc smiled and agreed to try our little experiment. 

By the time Friday rolled around, Marc had arranged three different dates with three different women the three nights he’d be in Chicago.  I had learned that Linda had reconciled with his ex and couldn’t really meet me for a drink unless she came along.  I, still bogged down in mono-normativity—the assumption that everyone in a relationship is monogamous—couldn’t imagine that his girlfriend coming along might have been an invitation for a threesome, and so I declined. 

Marc ended up going out with only one of the women he had set up dates with, and didn’t have sex with her.  He did, however, have sex with a different woman who he met that weekend at a party.  I spent the weekend home alone and without a date.  Be careful what you wish for, right? 

And that’s how we opened our relationship. Neither one of us knew what was in store for us, but now, seven years later, we’re still doing it--negotiating a committed, non-monogamous relationship.  It’s fun, it’s a challenge, it’s exciting, it’s difficult, and it’s something we’re committed to, at least for now.   We had our individual reasons for saying “yes” to an open relationship, and so, as will be the case with every entry on this blog, we’ll each offer our own perspective. 

So why did we say “yes” to an open relationship?

I distinctly remember that moment when Mimi asked me “so what would it be like if I kissed him” (when I wasn’t around).  He was an attractive guy who was younger than me, in better shape than me, and more handsome than me, with a cadre of drooling women all sitting at the bar every time we went into the restaurant where he worked.  This was intimidating.  I did have to give it some serious thought.

I couldn’t really see any reason why this SHOULDN’T happen besides my own insecurities.  I decided to take a plunge and say “ok”.  I figured if she liked him better, or if he was a better lover, or hotter, or whatever, my “yes” or “no” answer wouldn’t change those facts.  My denial of Mimi’s request wouldn’t change the desire she felt for him.  If she was fantasizing about him, my denial would not change that.  So yeah…let’s go for it. 

We indeed had several sexual experiences with others over the years, some with individuals and some with more than one person, but always, save the episode Mimi mentioned above, we had both been present.  Opening things up further would either bring us closer, or if we didn’t do it right, could destroy us as a couple. 

Being a mountaineer and triathlete who has participated in endurance sports since I was 13 years old, I’d always been up for a challenge and not a big fan of the status quo.  When I tell people about my lifestyle choice (a heterosexual male in a non-monogamous relationship with a woman), I often hear, “wow…I could NEVER do that…I’d be too jealous”.  Me, too.  When I tell people I rock climb I often hear “wow, I could never do that…I’m afraid of heights”.  Me, too.  Yet, in both cases, I am willing to step outside my own personal status quo and take a risk. 

I really am not convinced that one has to mask or hide their desire for their entire life because they’ve chosen to partner with one specific person.  I am just as committed (well, much more committed) to Mimi as I was before we opened up the relationship…but now I am free to explore my desire for other women honestly, while keeping my primary relationship as my priority.  I think the world would be a better place if everyone felt the same freedom to make the choices they’d like to make regarding this issue.

You’re probably thinking I said ‘yes’ because I was hot for Linda.  Though it’s true, I was hot for Linda, it is also true that I said ‘yes’ to non-monogamy a long time before we met Linda or even before I met Marc.  In two previous relationships, my partners and I had spent at least some of our time together with an open agreement. 

Monogamy has always been a struggle for me.  Though I had a five-year relationship that was 100% monogamous (on my part, and I’m assuming on his, though there is no way to know for sure), it never felt comfortable to me.  It was like a too-tight dress or itchy sweater.  And it was difficult, at times, to keep the promises. I felt insane chemistry with a couple of other people while in that relationship, and I had to push it down, repress it, and channel it elsewhere.  In those moments, I hated and resented the well-guarded fence around my desire. 

Consensual non-monogamy just feels right to me—always has.  I love sex.  I love to flirt.  I think that cultivating the erotic or sexual energy between people is a beautiful and incredibly fun and exciting thing.  It doesn’t make sense to me to cut off that part of human relationships because I have chosen to commit to Marc and create a household and family with him.  It’s convention that says monogamy is a sign of love and commitment and the only option, and I’ve never been one to take the conventional route. 

And…I wanted to do Linda.  But it was less about hormones taking over and more about realizing I had desire for him, I wanted to act on it and it seemed he did too, and those feelings I describe above became rather acute.

I also knew that I would have to deal with Marc being sexually active with other people, and that first weekend was really tough.  3 nights, 3 dates, 3 different women—at least in my own mind until I found out how Marc’s weekend really went.  Every night I had to do the mental gymnastics of not visualizing, not wondering if it’s better or if she’s more interesting or smart or funny or sexy or whatever, and not feeling undesirable because I was the one sitting at home with no real prospects on the radar.  I could have just bagged it then and there, and there was a big part of me that wanted to crawl under the warm but suffocating blanket of monogamy.  Instead, I realized that time between Marc’s dates with others—time to fortify and feel the bond between us and time for me to get my own shit together around jealousy and insecurity—would make things easier.  And so I brought that to the table when he got home and we began hammering out the guidelines for ethical non-monogamy together. 

Jealousies, insecurities, fear and anxiety—they’re all part of the landscape of non-monogamy.  I guess, in my case, it really comes down to having a rather strong libido and an even stronger preference for doing the sort of internal and relationship work necessary to confront and work on those feelings and experiences rather than the sort of work that comes with monogamy—boredom, repressed desire, “working” to liven things up, resentment of or from a partner (not to mention fear and anxiety about infidelity or non-consensual non-monogamy).

I welcome the work I have to do around jealousies—though sometimes it kicks my ass-- and I cherish the erotic experiences and energy I can share with others with and without Marc.  It’s a shit load of work, and sometimes it’s incredibly painful and difficult, but it’s also rewarding, exciting, bond-building, and fun.  And, it’s just me.  I feel really lucky to have found a primary partner who can see, respect, and cherish that part of me.

And there is the politics of it all—but that will have to wait for another blog post.