Does My Boyfriend Want an Open Relationship? Do I?

I'd been wanting to read Tristan Taormino's "Opening Up." But when I found it downloaded on my boyfriend's Kindle, I wasn't happy.

May 26, 2011 at 12:02pm | Leave a comment

image
It began when I borrowed the Kindle from my boyfriend Tuffy.

I’m not into billiards, but he is. His league meets at a place that recently started serving chicken sliders. It was the push I needed to accept Tuffy’s standing offer to tag along during league practice and hang out.

It’s not that I won’t play pool, but I’m certainly not fit to oppose someone who is trying to improve for serious play. So I brought the Kindle, figuring I could watch pool a bit, visit a bit, drink a beer and read some shit. Tuffy was cool with that, so off we went. Pool was played, sliders eaten. Tuffy touted his available downloads: I recall some science fiction and Harold McGee’s On Food and Cooking. I do not recall Tristan Taormino’s "Opening Up," which is of course a well-considered treatise on polyamory.

I had been thinking of reading it, actually. But when I found it downloaded I wasn’t happy. It felt like a weird thing to find deliberately unmentioned. I read it with my insecurities ablaze. It was as if Tristan Taormino was talking calmly and rationally to my conscious mind, but my lizard brain was rocking out to Bob Seger and smashing shit.

It’s a book, I kept thinking. It’s just information. Please don’t assume this is going to be used to harm you. I hit a wall at the chapter on compersion. Taormino cites the Kerista commune’s definition of this notion: “the opposite of jealousy, positive feelings about your partner’s other intimacies.”

Sounds like a swell idea in theory. People take pleasure in one another’s happiness, and all our needs are met thereby. Yet Skeptical Me was skeptical. If my partner comes to me and proposes that I take pleasure in his happiness, how exactly does that differ from the usual glad-handing jive keeping women down?

I’m long-used to the idea that I should sacrifice my own wishes to live vicariously through others, and as my friend Dan would say, I give that shit the finger. As if our greatest joy is emanating clean towels, nutritious meals, double-checked math homework and emotional security for others. I like caring for my loved ones and keeping my game tight, but that stuff is work for real, and I’m not a separate species of creature with no innate desires of her own.

For it to work, compersion would have to be a two-way street (or three-way, or more-way). A boy partner or partners would have to feel just as frubbly cleaning the fridge while I’m out romancing someone new. Right? As he’s brushing his teeth and turning in early, he’s thrilled to the max, entirely content -- not in spite of the fact that I’m having a great time with a different person elsewhere, but because of it? In this world? Where men are trained to expect Klondike bars and Dodge Chargers in exchange for basic adult social functioning? I didn’t think so.

I will admit it: I am cagey.

Before Tuffy and I hooked up, I had been married for 9 years, together for 14 with my ex. In Web demographics, I am old as shit, and I was unused to new partners, even one at a time.

When I returned to dating, I felt as if I’d been thawed from ice. Nothing in the world was as I remembered. Serial monogamy was over. So were OK Soda, Netscape Navigator, the Today sponge and "The X-Files." Obviously, I was confused and frightened. Everyone else seemed comfortable with it. At least they seemed comfortable to me.

Why shouldn’t they be? While I was settling down and trying to conceive, Tuffy was motorcycling across New Zealand. Skydiving. Trail running. Living in hostels and group homes with freethinkers and ethical sluts. While I was struggling through postpartum depression and marriage counseling, he was racking up various configurations of ass on various continents.

“Nine years is a long time to be married,” he said solemnly the night we met.

Now here we were three years on, exclusive by default, not declaration. At the end of the night we went home to the first of many partial discussions to come.