Last September, I wrote an article in defense of open relationships. Speaking from my own experience, I defended a concept of true love from a place of perfect freedom. I said I truly want my partner to pursue all genuine desires with other people, so that she never feels she’s missed something important in life from fear of my jealousy. This still resonates with me strongly on an intellectual level, but our emotional experience since then has shown us that it’s not as simple or easy as I thought.
First off, I should admit I’ve always felt a deep resistance to a conventional life. The idea of doing things (marriage, house, kids, job) just because that’s what people do feels empty and sad to me. It lacks an originality and an element of personal authorship that I connect to a life full of meaning. Challenging convention is indeed important — otherwise we may end up leading a life of conformity that never feels authentic — but to deny ourselves all conventions is to exclude the possibility that we may be authentically aligned with conventional lifestyles. Perhaps certain conventions are conventions because most people authentically desire them.
Our couples therapist always reminds us that most people want relationships with a strong attachment to a primary partner. (Side note: I strongly recommend the support of therapy to help you navigate any unconventional relationship. Believe me - typical relationships are hard enough to navigate on your own, you’re going to want that help.) A big part of love is feeling safe enough to be completely vulnerable with the other person. Monogamy creates a structure of safety where allowing others into the mix would naturally threaten how secure we feel in our partner’s commitment to us.
The power of my own jealousy, insecurity and anxiety during this process has surprised me. When my partner first told me she had sex with someone else, I felt a cold wave of fear rush through my whole body in a way I’d never felt and never expected to feel. I didn’t let it show in the moment - I even encouraged her to keep hanging out with him that same night, after I went home. But lying in bed alone, my fear and anxiety spiraled into a dark place until finally I asked her to come home. I cried and could hardly look at her when I saw her. I was so overcome with powerfully sad thoughts of her being intimate with another man.
The power of these feelings dissipated quickly, and by the next night I was happily talking about her experience with her. I was no longer triggered by the thoughts and instead felt proud of us for supporting each other in exploring these different experiences. But I felt guilty for not fully appreciating her earlier expressions of fear and sadness when I’d had experiences with other women. I had heard them from an intellectual headspace, where I rationalized them as normal feelings and “part of the process.” Having now felt them myself, however, I knew I should have held her tighter in those moments and given her more support and love.
This is perhaps the greatest gift this whole open relationship experience has given me. The times I’ve been with other people so far have been far less exciting and interesting than I’d expected. Instead, they left me longing for what I already have with my partner, and they didn’t feel worth causing her any sadness or fear. We’ve learned that being with others (or even just the thoughts it generates) invades our intimacy and, like a third party that is always present, makes it hard for us to be in the moment enjoying each other naturally in the way we always cherished.
So we’re taking a step back for now to focus on each other and reassess. The depth of the love we feel for each other is stronger than ever. We’ve certainly been more sweet and caring and intimate with each other through the whole process than ever before. And we’ve seen that there’s so much more to learn and experience together without the need for others. Perhaps these are beautiful byproducts of the intense emotions we’ve experienced going through this together.
Knowing this, we are definitely still open to exploring it more in the future with a little more caution and care, but we are also open to the idea that it’s just not right for us, and that a conventional, monogamous relationship (with just a few twists of our own) might actually be better. Part of me can’t believe I just wrote that, but another part feels really good about it… and a little relieved.
About the author:
Recovering lawyer, training to be a meditation teacher. Anxiety used to define me. Now I am devoted to bringing peace to the people and communities that continue to suffer from it.