1. What insight about open relationships do you wish you had when you started?
The way I ended up in an open relationship (and we haven’t agreed on it being an “open relationship” per se, but rather we have an intimate/romantic/sexual relationship that is completely undefined and has no specific rules or boundaries and we haven’t really ever had specific rules or boundaries) was catastrophically messy. I won’t get into the details here, I’ll do that on my own blog soon, but there are many things I wish I had done differently or insights I wish I’d had earlier on. I think the main one is that however uncomfortable and scary honesty is, it is critically important. I have always been someone who only ever wants to please others, accommodate others, make others feel happy and loved, and I had to learn how to come to terms with letting go of the need to please everyone. I can’t both take on everyone else’s happiness as my own responsibility and have integrity at the same time. I think that open relationships require real gut honesty and real commitment to hashing things out, and it is scary as fuck but also worth it. I was so scared of my own emotions that I ended up needlessly hurting one person (my ex-partner) and losing the trust of another one (my lover’s ex-partner) in a way that could have been avoided had I been more emotionally honest with myself (and, then, with others). Now, my commitment is to always be candid and intentional, and take the time with myself to understand my own emotions in order to be able to state them clearly.
I also wish I’d had more faith in myself to be okay, no matter what. That no matter what, no matter how hard things are, no matter how messy they become, no matter how impossible they may feel, I will be okay.
2. What has been the hardest thing about opening your relationship, and how have you overcome that?
My current relationship has never been a closed, partner relationship. It has always been a flying-high-in-the-sky-fuck-the-parachutes-are-broken-shit-we’re-gonna-die-omgomgomg-ok-no-actually-we’re-ok kind of relationship. It is an intense relationship with a lot of processing and a lot of emotions and a ton of trust-building work. I think the hardest part for me is sometimes feeling like there are no walls and ceilings that are protecting me from the elements. I think I’m forced to confront scary emotions (fear of abandonment, fear of hurt, fear of pain, jealousy, etc.) a lot more than in my prior monogamous relationships, and work through them on my own. What I mean is, in my monogamous relationships, I have relied on the safety of the relationship and the boundaries of the relationship to take care of the scariness of being vulnerable and intimate. I have avoided working through the sources of those fears because the monogamy was the safety net. In this open relationship, it can feel as though that safety net isn’t there and so instead I have to just let those emotions and fears in and sit with them, become acquainted with them, make peace with them, and even send them on their merry way – and I can do that with my lover’s support and understanding, but she doesn’t do it for me and she doesn’t fix it for me by eliminating the source of the fear for me. And that part is hard and takes a lot of emotional energy. Buuuut the flip side of the coin…
3. What has been the best thing about your open relationship?
…is that the hardest thing is also the best thing. I feel like this relationship has helped me become so much more aware of my resilience and my capacity to get through difficult emotions and land on my own two feet. And this in turn has meant that my ability to trust – to trust her but also trust myself – has deepened immensely. It’s really gratifying to know that I can create my own sense of security and safety and don’t need to make rules for the relationship that are based on fear. And I have learned a LOT about how to communicate my emotions responsibly and when is a good time to stop and take space. It’s not easy, and I can imagine at some point not wanting an open relationship anymore, but for now I have no desire to change anything.
It’s funny – a lot of people in response to this question I noticed said that the best thing was being able to have sex or play or be involved with other people, and the bounty of love that invites. And that’s just not where I’m at with it right now. Maybe someday I will appreciate that but for now I’m not even really interested in that. For now it’s all about the emotional work and trust-building.
4. Anything else you’d like to add?
Someone I look up to recently said to me that she thinks we should all take the “ship” out of “relationship” and just focus on relating to one another. Relationships are not one size fits all and often when we enter into capital-R-Relationships we enforce an agenda on them that just doesn’t work for every relationship. That really resonated with me and that’s my M.O. with my lover right now. For us, we go day by day and make decisions that work for us based on what we want, and we arrive at those decisions based on working things through on our own and together and trusting each other a lot, and trusting ourselves. Easier said than done (see my answer to number 2!) but ultimately I feel like I’m growing in really important ways right now.