I slapped on some lipstick, a cleavage-baring knit dress, and a pair of high heels for the first date I’ve embarked on in over two and a half years. And no, it’s not because I’m single.
As I showed up to a dark, but stylish dive on the edge of Skid Row, butterflies were fluttering away in my stomach; dating is a skill, and it would be an understatement to say that I felt…rusty. I was a little early, so I bellied up to the bar and ordered myself a whiskey on the rocks, hoping it would help settle the jitters that were starting to overwhelm my senses. I had plenty of reason to be flustered: Not only was this my first date in a long time, but it was my first official foray into non-monogamy.
After discussing it ad nauseum for the last couple years, my partner and I finally decided to open our relationship. It was hardly a decision that was made lightly, and in some ways we had flexible rules before: random make outs with strangers had already been deemed appropriate and a-okay, and we’d “officially” opened up before, but without ever actually pursuing other partners. After another impromptu visit to the subject, we decided to give it a go.
I don’t know exactly what changed between the first time we had this conversation, or even the second, or the third, and this time that allowed us to move forward, rather than running in circles around the matter. Something was different. We were both ready.
Our more traditional-minded friends keep asking us what it means to be non-monogamous, as if in our clearly extensive (HA!) experience we could answer that question. I have spent the last few weeks really mulling this over, and I know that I definitely don’t have the answers now, and may never actually have them. Some people believe that to love is to possess, and I know that for me, at my times of greatest insecurity, that seemed reasonable, even if I knew it wasn’t really something I wanted. Something about driving toward that, though, protected me from my own vulnerability, and from accepting the fact that some things are out of my control regardless of how many rules, regulations, or demands I’d like to make.
In the past, every romantic connection made me feel like I was one big fresh wound, recently stitched together and always ready to pull apart. A raw fucking heart, perpetually bleeding out on Christmas Eve when everyone else is ready to sit down to dinner. An angry and defensive white blood cell attacking everything, both the good and the bad. Pursuing a certain kind of relationship, the kind that felt like a guarantee, was an ill-fitting salve. It never worked, no matter how much I wanted it to–no matter how much I convinced myself I was ready.
This didn’t change until just about the time that I met my current partner–perhaps a little before. Something shifted, and I knew I had to stop. Stop falling in love with unavailable, but sweet people. Stop expecting that love would be returned if I just worked hard enough. Stop testing affections by inciting rage and hoping, hoping, hoping that any show of emotion was a clear sign of reciprocity. And somehow, everything shifted. It got better. I got better–ever imperfect, but slightly improved.
Now, feeling more secure in myself than ever, I find myself thinking back on the deeply intimate friendships I developed with exes long after we broke up and on the emotions I possessed for multiple people simultaneously and could never explain, and…every bit of weirdness that I thought this new arrangement would inspire turns out to feel more natural than ever.
Somehow, opening our relationship doesn’t feel threatening because it doesn’t even feel like there is a competition. Last week at the bar, a friend of mine kept asking, “What if you fall in love with someone else?” And what if I do? So what? Does it matter? Does that love somehow eradicate the love and trust I have for the man who I live with, who has become my dearest confidante? Does that love somehow change what we share? I don’t think so.
Soulmates aren’t real, and every love is different. Love is less about flash-in-the-pan infatuation than it is about shared intimacy and experiences, and I don’t believe that, in and of itself, is exclusive. Affection is not a limited resource (although, of course, time and energy can be). Trying to explain this to those friends who are…perhaps just wired differently than myself (and the countless others who have had this realizations long before I joined the fucking party) is difficult. In some ways, clearly, I don’t have a strong hold on how this all clicked into place; some of these things I understood theoretically and would have said I believed in before, but putting them into practice seemed impossible until now.
The worst case scenario is that my partner and I break up, but that could happen regardless of whether we decided to embark on this path or not. All relationships inevitably end; even relationships that last a lifetime can’t beat death.