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.