Open relationships rival monogamy for a whole ton of reasons, offering an alternative happiness and coupledom. It’s the not-so-modern but longtime underdog in Western culture’s idea of relationship utopia.
I was in one earlier this year, which ended with no fights, no tears, no Facebook stalking. Trying an open thing basically eliminated that notion of ownership that had ultimately led to animosity or paranoia in my previous relationships. Like a weird magic oitment found where I’d least expect it.
I suppose I undertook it as an experiment or lesson, but that’s not to say there weren’t real feelings involved. Anyone else wanting to explore it should arrive at that decision themselves.
Here are some retrospective observations in the aftermath of my short-lived but no-regrets open reli.
You won’t get FOMO as much as you’d think
In my experience, most of the thrills we get from those early honeymoon days with a new beau come from being their chosen one, and vice versa. We feel special being fawned over, cooing across pillows. Cascades of ‘I miss you texts’ on the rare evening you’re apart.
We’re happily ensnared by exclusivity and when the ‘official’ status is announced, abandon recent crushes. Soon I will have stopped texting other boys back, but occasionally, guiltily, wondering about those ‘ones that got away.’
Being poly-amorous is obviously different for every case: some depend upon the liberal, progressive, anti-traditional nature of certain characters, some are simply an explorative phase in our youth – and before we know it, we’re likely to settle down with one lover and have all the babies and dogs. And then there all the others in between. Mine came out of a foreign suggestion and a desire to set my own boundaries.
An open relationship makes you kinder, and more mature
While I may have secretly carried on texting other admirers or worse, cheated during a relationship, I’d never really considered the idea of being open. Though I’d always thought it braver to exist with unusual rules than the easier avenue of infidelity that so many sadly opt for, it seemed so far removed from what I knew, something for wilder girls than me.
When it came down to it, an open relationship just sounded like something I wasn’t cut out for. Or rather, what I’d been trained into thinking I wasn’t cut out for. Then I found myself within one.
First, I was surprised that my new partner's suggestion didn’t offend, upset or scare me. In fact, it gave me butterflies and an eagerness to explore it. A lot of this was down to the character of this guy, in particular. He made me feel new, compelling and completely at liberty to do with my time and body what I wished. Recognising that someone making me feel this way was a good thing, I decided to go ahead and try it out.
Everyone’s open relationship rules are different
There were no concrete rules – something I know a lot of polygamous lovers like to draw up (see The Ethical Slut obvs). Basically, it was a simple appreciation that we enjoyed sharing time and thoughts, but would benefit more widely in time from not eliminating anyone else who could offer us something, too.
One of the things I found most alien was the air of mystery that shrouded a lot of that other person’s time. But because it was outlined in this way from the start, it didn’t instill the fear and anxiety that the ‘not-knowing’ would have done in my previous relationships. It was kind of thrilling.
And instead of agonising, I accepted the idea of that person’s private life being just that, and solely theirs. To this end, it helped that we had no mutual friends whatsoever, so there was little to no risk of toe-treading.
You’ll fantasise about monogamy in the same way monogamous couples might fantasise about swinging...
At times, we imagined a monogamous future together with a farm and our kids, living out the extent of those fixed archaic guidelines just in fantasy, which was far as we wanted them to exist for now. It was consistently hypothetical. I found it exciting and hilarious.
It didn’t make feel sad or weird because I knew we both had the capacities to have these things one day – just probably not with each other. I guess some people would balk at naming kids and flippantly throwing in the odd ‘I love you!’ after weeks of dating, but it was all part of the game, and we were as good at playing it as one another.
We dared to reveal our darkest thoughts and secrets, probably because we knew it wouldn’t come back to bite us in the ass in a vicious feelings-y argument that wouldn’t happen.
In the same way we can sometimes struggle in the early days of a monogamous relationship – to forget their ex that keeps popping up at parties or on social media, getting used to their habits and the ways in which they treat you as you become less like strangers – getting used to an open relationship is much of the same, except you’re legitimately permitting one another to explore outside desires.
Sometimes the discussion can be educational and reflective of how you can better your own interaction. Sometimes it can just be a bit weird, but then you remind yourself of the reasons you’re doing it. You’re sort of stretching yourself out and feeling new feelings, like a teenager, but this time with an adult sensibility and more rationale.
Sharing someone won’t make you as anxious as you'd think
Most of the time, sharing that person made me feel free and relaxed. I was rebelling against my own estimations of what I’d always judged intimacy to be. I was illuminated by the experience, but knew it didn’t mean I’d always want this. This can work as long as you can identify early on your current emotional state, capacity and desire.
Ultimately, I think very few people can make polygamy last beyond marriage and family-making, but I applaud those who can. I enjoyed the way it made me feel at this time in my life, and would not rule out it happening again.
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Illustration by Marylou Faure
This article originally appeared on The Debrief.