It was cemented with a few Pabst Blue Ribbon tallboys and a sense of adventure in a basement dive bar with sticky floors and one bathroom. “So, we’re doing this?"
“Yep, let’s do this.”
“You’re sure? Cuz I'm gonna do it. Are you?”
“Yep! Oh, I’m gonna do it.”
We stared at each other almost giddily, clinked cans, and that was that. This is a story about a successful open relationship.
We had been monogamous for almost 4 years, Evan and I. He's my dude, no question. I still look at his face sometimes and feel this overwhelming wash of happiness and calm that makes me go, “Fuck, I like him.” Despite the fact that we only banged each other for a long time, we would always dive into this drunk talk about how we didn't totally believe in the idea that two people should only have sex with each other for 50+ years. That it was unsustainable, that it bred resentment and unfulfillment and that eventually, if an opportunity arose or if I ever met Tom Hardy, we would talk about it.
As a writer, I have always sought out odd situations where I would see how far I could take them or just where I would end up. Sometimes this left me on Staten Island at 6am with no cab money, sometimes it left me with some truly satisfying bite marks, sometimes with six German tourists eating pizza on a rooftop after watching the sun rise over the Williamsburg Bridge. I loved the subtle feeling of settling down with Evan, planning dinners, Netflix binges, and of course the adventures we had together, but my writing dwindled. My manic emotional passion kind of settled into contentment in a 9-5, because I was in love and felt safe.
He admitted to missing the excitement of the unknown, the anonymity of emotionless sex, probably also big boobs. No shade, it happens. I don't remember what made us decide to make it official, but a little liquid courage followed by a sober talk the next day and an emailed list of rules, and we were off.
The rules. They have changed a little over the past 9 months, but ultimately they are about respect for the other's comfort level and pretty easy to keep to. No sleepovers, no one at our apartment, we tell each other when something happens, safe sex always, and our outside trysts (dalliances? Something that sounds less Pride and Prejudice?) should not affect our time together or our sex life.
Even before I acted on it, I felt better knowing I could. More relaxed, and I realized how having barriers that inhibit my natural instincts actually always had weighed on me. Not that I was constantly in search of sexual partners, but just knowing that if I wanted to explore an opportunity, I could. Thinking back on the few serious partners I've had, I always had outside flirtations that I felt guilty about. Now I could, if I wanted. I already had options. If I wanted.
Jealousy is a thing, and that's okay. I do believe that it is a learned behavior, and I have learned more about myself and my feelings since this started than ever. I check in with myself, really dive into why I am feeling a certain way, and try to get to the bottom of my problems. I also realized that I am often dishonest with myself about where a negative feeling is coming from, and I have been able to work on that. We check in with each other about it casually, there is no scheduled monthly meeting with pop quizzes but I do try to every once and a while just ask, “How is this going? You still into it? You good?”
If he no longer was, that would be so completely fine. We would move forward. He's the one I am in love with. It's good to remember that it's not a competition, there's not a notched bedpost, it's just a breath, a sigh of relief, an option. A door that is open just a crack.
I have found a deep affection for other people in open relationships because they are more laid back, and you are less likely to catch squishy feelings. I like being in intimate situations with strangers and no bullshit, no small talk, down to the nitty gritty. It's easy to forget how fun sex is supposed to be. I also love other people in similar situations because you realize that there is no normal. Nonmonogamy and monogamy come in a million flavors because that's how life should be. You fall in love, build a life, and build a relationship, a Choose Your Own Adventure book that's based on two individual people, not societal structures that aren't even based on the unique soul that you are.
I know one couple who keeps an Excel spreadsheet of their outside partners, and I happen to know it's pretty detailed. I know a couple who can only sleep around together, another who used to be a threesome.
I knew I would have fun, and I knew I would enjoy the crazy make-out sessions that happen less in long term relationships. No surprise there. What I didn't expect was the actual joy I would feel for him when he got to meet up with someone. This seems abnormal, happiness that your best friend and partner was naked with someone else and liked it? But there it was, a positive feeling that he was just feeling good.
Part of me worries that he will find some uber flexible yoga instructor who is also a doctor and deep throats for days while making pies, and he will leave me, and this could happen. That's okay, though. That's my decision and I feel at peace with it.
We’re not a part of any kind of community or anything, but I know people who are and they love it. Months will go by where I will just want him and only him (and it is so good), or a pint of ice cream and The X Files. Then a really hot 24-year-old with abs that make you want to cry will ask me about the book I'm reading and I’m just like, “Hey, this will probably be fun.” Or sometimes I’m like, “Hey, boobs are awesome and girls smell good,” and I get to indulge in that. Then I can go home and snuggle against my favorite person, who might ask a bunch of questions, might not.
There's always the argument of intimacy. Sex is intimate, but it’s not as intimate as sitting on the bed in your underwear, belly out, with a plate of tacos balancing on it, in a face mask, talking about your mom. It’s not as intimate as having your own weird language. It’s not as intimate as scream sobbing in someone’s arms after your mom was diagnosed with a terminal illness, or driving eight hours immediately after she died. Not as intimate as always refilling the ice cube trays, because he knows that’s your biggest pet peeve, or rubbing lavender oil on his pillow because it helps him sleep. That’s love. Not a one night stand with someone because you both like poetry and being tied up, although that’s nice too.
This piece is anonymous simply because it’s only the business of whom we decide to share it with. Not my work, not my family, and only a handful of our friends - and obviously anyone who comes across me on Tinder I guess. I also kind of like that there’s a part of our relationship that’s a little secret, just ours. I know he likes knowing that we believe in something, and are exploring it instead of keeping it as a giggling risqué conversation only held at 2am in a dark bar booth.
For us, nonmonogamy is about accepting each other, flaws and mistakes and messes and all. To laugh under blankets, email each other Vice articles, argue about the dishwasher, talk to our cat, have amazing sex, and sometimes, sex with other people. Then I come home to him, and smoosh my face into his arm on the couch when he’s wearing his softest t-shirt and think about how good he smells.
Cue the “congrats on the sex” gif. I will gladly take it.