Exploring Open Relationships: Part One

HPIM1030.JPGI’ve always considered myself monogamous, even when I’ve been in open relationships in the past. All I ever really wanted, growing up, was to find my soulmate and be with him forever. For a while in my late-teens/early twenties, I was anti-marriage, but then, I was sort of finding my footing as a feminist and I was looking at marriage solely as an institution of the patriarchy. I suppose that didn’t really last long as I got married in my early twenties; the call to settle down with one person was the stronger call.

*** Note: This series of articles goes into me exploring what relationships mean to me, and what I want out of relationship. As I tend to, I write this from a pretty open/vulnerable place, but it might be a bit TMI for some folks on the inner workings of my experience of romantic relationships. Thus, you’ve been warned. ***

Ever since my (fairly catastrophic) relationship with my ex, Mark, I’ve pretty much been in open relationships. As I’m committed to the process of personal growth and of “know thyself,” I thought I’d share a few of my thoughts on this, since it’s definitely changed who I am and who I think I am as a person.

In the past, what I ended up doing was dating someone that I sort of liked but wasn’t in love with, and then I got comfortable with them and we sort of went monogamous by default. And, I wasn’t totally happy, I wasn’t in love, but it was nice to not be alone. In those relationships I know that I’ve thought, “I’m not in love, but I like them a lot. Maybe I’ll love them more in time. Maybe my attraction will grow.” It’s rare for me to find someone I click with to begin with (and rarer still for me to actually be physically attracted to someone) so I frequently experience the fear of relationship scarcity. Scarcity/Loneliness go hand in hand for me. “I’ll never find anyone I like, I’ll never find anyone that gets me” is one of the tapes that my brain likes to put on repeat whenever I’m not in a relationship.

So I’ve stuck with a few relationships long past their expiration date in part because of that fear of loneliness. And that’s not fair to me, or to my partners.

Since my really bad breakup at the end of 2011, I’ve resolved that I’m not going to get into a monogamous relationship with someone unless I’m falling in love, or at least, the realistic potential for that. For the past years:

  1. I’ve been living in a very conservative area of Wisconsin, and
  2. Most men aren’t really satisfied with the minimal amount of time I can commit to dating,

That’s left me primarily dating men who are in open relationships (either married or in a primary relationship). I have an online dating profile, and I’d say that 90% of the messages I get (that are from actual people with compatible interests) are from men in open relationships.

This has worked out well for me in many ways. My focus is on my writing and artwork, and I sometimes vanish for days at a time when working on a project. I check my calendar sometimes and realize that weeks have gone by since I’ve seen another human being in the flesh. For that matter, I’m sometimes on the road traveling and teaching for days or weeks at a time. When I’m with someone who’s already in a relationship, they already have a daily routine, they don’t have a huge amount of time to spend with me. Their family and primary relationship(s) are their priority.

I might see them once or twice a month, and that’s about all the social time I can spare if I’m going to keep my focus on my work. Men who are looking for more from me are going to get frustrated, so these days I work hard to communicate up front what I’m able to offer to a relationship.

Only once in the past 4 years have I dated anyone where I considered it a monogamous relationship. We met online, we really clicked, we spent the better part of a week together, and then he started to “ghost” on me. It was long distance, and I went to see him about a month later, and then he withdrew even further. After multiple queries on my part for more communication, he broke things off. I was just starting to have some feelings for him. I think he had an expectation of who I was from when we met online, and I somehow didn’t fulfill that expectation…and in retrospect, he and I wouldn’t have worked out anyways. I’m glad I gave things a shot with him, but that experience was rough for me because it just reinforced my “I’ll never find anyone who gets me” tape.

When I got married in my early twenties, I thought, “I’ll be in this relationship for the rest of my life.” I wasn’t in love, but my husband and I got along well. I thought, “I suppose this is as good as it gets.”

I always feel a bit awkward writing or speaking about this because there are a number of men in my life that I’m still friends with, and I don’t want to hurt their feelings. It’s not like they, themselves, were “bad,” this is more of a case of being incompatible, or just lack of chemistry. We humans take offense to, or hear as critique, things connected to how our partners felt about us in relationships. It’s not any man’s fault that I didn’t fall in love with them any more than it’s any man’s fault that they aren’t attracted to me; nor is it my fault I’m not attracted. Chemistry is what it is. So, as you read my perspective on these relationships, understand that I’m talking about my own processes, thoughts, and feelings (or lack thereof). 

I met my ex husband when I had just turned twenty, and I had just been with my first boyfriend a few months before that. I wasn’t in love with him either, but he was a nice guy and a good friend. I’d fallen in love before that, but that guy wasn’t interested in me that way, and (I’ll spare you the angst) I went into a depression spiral and gave up on true love. In hindsight, I understand that it’s not his fault he didn’t love me; like I said, chemistry is what it is. 

It took me most of my twenties to deal with my body image issues, so I was still fairly well sucked into the whole “Nobody wants to be with the fat chick with acne.” So when my husband fell for me, I went with the flow. I didn’t believe in true love and soulmates any longer, and I suppose I thought some version of, “Don’t look a gift horse in the mouth.” In fact, I recall some people in my life telling me this when I expressed that I wasn’t sure about getting married to him. “Don’t lose this guy, he’s good for you,” people told me. What I think they meant was, “You’re fat and not that attractive, and you found a guy that likes you, don’t screw this up and end up a spinster.

That fear of loneliness is a real kicker.

They meant well, I know they did, but I got married when I probably shouldn’t have. He wanted me to be in love with him, and I wasn’t. I liked him. We were fantastic roommates. We were both fiction writers and Ren Faire/Fantasy nerds, so that worked out. Sex was ok at first. But, I had no passion for him.

We got married when I was 23, and hindsight being 20/20…if I knew then what I know now, I’d have saved us both some pain and just stayed friends with him instead of caving to his desire to get married.

Opening Our Marriage

How he and I came to be in an open relationship is that he finally came out to me about some particular fetishes he was interested in. I had always known he had some fetishes and kinks I didn’t share; we’d tried out a little BDSM and role play early on, but most of that didn’t really work for me. I’m too kinky for your totally vanilla person, and I’m waaaay too vanilla for anyone heavily into fetish.

When my husband finally admitted to needing some heavy-duty fetish stuff, this was way out of my league. We opened up our relationship so that he could go explore that.

It was easy for me to open up our relationship. I wasn’t in love with him, so I wasn’t really jealous. That may sound harsh or strange, but when I look back at my younger self that sums it up. I loved him as a friend and I wanted him to be happy, but him spending time with other people didn’t really emotionally impact me much.

I didn’t take advantage of our open relationship, though. At the time, I was something around 330 or so pounds; that’s the heaviest I’ve ever been in my life, and my husband was far heavier than me. And whether it was his weight, or the fact that he was finally exploring his sexual interests, sex stopped working for us. But I was so overweight (and introverted, and busy) that I didn’t really feel comfortable trying to date anyone. Truthfully, I wouldn’t have even known how, I’d never really dated anyone to begin with.

In my late twenties, I did finally develop a crush on someone I met at a Pagan gathering. I knew that I’d never have a long-term relationship with that person, but I was interested in exploring things with him, and that’s the first time I ever actively pursued anyone.

I’ll fast forward through the massive life changes here–I broke up with my husband. The combination of actually having feelings for someone new and realizing that I was even capable of feeling that kind of passion and attraction, as well as discovering what I really wanted to be doing with my life (building Pagan community) as well as everything else that had built up over the years…I finally was in the headspace where I could end things. At the time my husband angry but later he thanked me. And I’m truly glad he’s happy; last I talked to him he had a boyfriend who was into the same fetishes and they were moving in together.

As for the guy I had a crush on–I tried being one of his polyamorous romantic interests, but that didn’t really work out either. He and I ended up as friends, though I had to nurse a broken heart to get to that place.

I then ended up in another relationship after someone introduced me to the Wonderful World of Online Dating. I’d intended to keep that as an open relationship so that I didn’t get stuck in the trap I had been in with my marriage, but he didn’t want to be in an open relationship so I (once again) caved. And that relationship dissolved after less than two years. I freely admit that I stayed in that relationship as long as I did because it was the first time I had ever had sex with someone where things were really good.

When that relationship ended, I went through a period of time I refer to as “borking my way through the Zodiac.” I didn’t make it all the way around the wheel, but I did instead discover a few things. One is that totally casual sex does not work for me. I can do friends with benefits, with a focus on the friends part. I’m too much of a sapiosexual. I need to know someone, connect with them. I had this theory that if I could just meet my sexual needs and not need to deal with the complexities of relationships, I’d be better off.

I disproved this theory for myself fairly quickly.

 

Links to the whole series:

 

 

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3 thoughts on “Exploring Open Relationships: Part One

  1. Thank you Shauna. I’m dealing with some of these issues now and having to be honest with who I am and what I want. It’s good to know others have explored/are exploring this territory too and that I’m not alone and not crazy (even though I feel like it). I hate hurting someone who has been my best friend for so many years, but, like you said, the chemistry is just not there. I’m not sure it ever was. I just wanted it to be so bad.

  2. Shauna, I’ve been reading your posting in various places for about two years now and I love your writing. One of the things that find value is how you do come from a very personal place. I equate it to the difference between a teacher that only works from theory and one that is hands on and real world practical. I really enjoy it and have grown through your teaching.

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