At the moment I’m largely limited to dating people who are going to be ok with being in an open relationship because I’m not going to just settle into monogamy by default at this point. It’s also worth pointing out that where I live (SE Wisconsin) most of the liberal/Pagan-friendly folks I’ve met are in (or prefer) open relationships. I’ve jokingly referred to my online profiles as “poly-bait” since most of the folks that contact me that write more than just a “Hey baby” message are in open relationships.
*** 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 TMI for some folks. Thus, you’ve been warned. ***
My relationship difficulties have been compounded the past years by the fact that I’m very cautious when it comes to dating within the Pagan community. 90% of my social interactions are with Pagans, but most Pagans are “off limits” for me because I’ve met them in context as an author/teacher/ritualist. From an ethical perspective, I strongly feel that need to ensure I’m in a peer dynamic with someone before I’d consider a relationship, and even then, I’m leery because of the potential for community drama if the relationship doesn’t work.
Been there, done that, burned the t-shirt.
I’m starting to accept that maybe I never fall in love. I don’t like that idea, I really don’t. Maybe my hormones are to blame; maybe my body just doesn’t produce enough oxytocin for the “falling in love” thing. Or maybe I met my “one true love” and it didn’t work out. Maybe it’s just a chemical factor of dealing with depression, or just faulty wiring in my brain chemistry. Maybe it’s because I think too much. Maybe it’s from dissociating my emotions when I was a kid to cope with the bullying. Who knows.
Right now I’m focusing more on balancing out my own conflicting tendencies in relationships.
See, when I find someone I like–even if it’s not “big love”–I tend to get complacent; I don’t really want to seek out new partners. I think it’s largely because of my introvertedness, and certainly in part because my focus is on my work. It’s difficult enough for me to give one partner enough attention, much less more than one partner.
Nowt that I’m actively dating two men at the same time, and exploring relationships with others, I’m not sure that I’m all that good at this. I feel kind of socially overwhelmed, and I’m pretty sure that when I give time to one person, I’m failing to give time to another, and that’s more social stress than I really want to handle. I keep coming back to the fact that I’m not really polyamorous, and multiple relationships are more work.
And it’s work I’m not really good at, if I’m honest with myself.
It’s certainly part of my introversion that I can only cope with having emotional relationships with so many people. I just don’t have a lot of brain space for more; I only have so much social capacity. Just as I can only have so much general social activity before getting exhausted, I seem to have that capacity limit for more intimate friendships and romantic relationships.
I also wonder if there’s some significant functional difference between folks who are genuinely polyamorous and those of us who aren’t. In my case, I’m always going to end up focusing my relationship compass point toward the place where I am getting the most needs met. The person I have the most emotional connection to, the person who is the most compatible with me, the person I seem to share the most chemistry with.
The thing that most monogamous people fear when their partner says, “I want to open our relationship and date other people,” is that their partner is going to 1. Start spending more time with the new partner and neglect them, and 2. Prefer the new partner that they are dating and leave them. I’ve seen open relationships where that doesn’t happen, and I’ve seen open relationships where it does. Maybe that’s the core difference between someone who’s genuinely wired for polyamory and someone who’s wired for monogamy, I’m not sure.
All I can say is that open relationships can be a time suck.
Time and Relationships
The irony in some of this is what initially drew me to open relationships was the casualness factor. After writing a few thousand words on this topic in this series of blog posts, I’ll just be blunt: I got into this to find a way to have intimacy and sex with people I had at least a basic emotional connection to but without a huge time obligation to. I can’t do completely anonymous sex, my attraction engine just doesn’t work that way. I’m too much of a sapiosexual, and I need a connection with someone. However, nor can I lie and promise someone monogamy, long-term-relationships, and falling in love when that doesn’t seem realistic. I needed to find a way to get that need for connection, intimacy, and sex met in a way that worked for me.
Frankly, I don’t have the kind of hours available each week for someone who is looking to me for their primary (or sole) romantic relationship. True, I’d make that time if I really fell for someone and thought we had the potential for a solid relationship, but I’m not willing to put in that kind of time for someone I don’t have that level of connection to.
Maybe that’s harsh, but that’s where I draw the line.
My relationship this past year has worked out great in this respect. He and I have gotten together sometimes weekly but usually once a month. Sometimes we go out, sometimes we don’t. We talk a lot online, we get along really amazingly well though we occasionally argue on philosophical topics. What has made our relationship work–other than the fact that we’re mostly sexually compatible–is that we don’t have huge expectations of each other time-wise. We have fun when we have time to have fun.
Monogamy or Open?
I’m also not unaware of the irony of some of my relationship challenges. All I ever wanted was monogamy, but I’m apparently not great at that because my partners don’t feel they get “enough” of me. And in open relationships, I’m not particularly good at that either for the same reasons; being with multiple partners, and (potentially) in at least friendship relationships with their partners, is often way more social energy than I have to offer to other human beings. (Some weeks all I can cope with are my cats.)
Right at the moment my relationship with my new boyfriend is working well, in part because he and I were both surprised to find ourselves really not just attracted to one another but also connecting on an emotional wavelength. The chemistry there is far deeper than I expected.
But I suppose this also reminds me as well why I’m just not naturally polyamorous, because it’s difficult for me to be attracted to one person and seeking someone else. It’s also been difficult for me to pay adequate attention to two boyfriends at the same time, so I’m struggling with that. I’m starting to feel a bit like I do in a monogamous relationship when my partner’s disappointed that I’m not able to give them enough of my time that they feel valued. And that’s stressful.
Maybe some day I fall in love. Maybe I find a deeply-fulfilling long-term monogamous relationship with someone. Or maybe it’s more monogamish; open relationships don’t scare me the way they once did, so long as I’m confident in the core relationship. In the absence of deep-big-love, it’s nice to connect to people in relationships. I’ve connected to some amazing friends in this way, and sometimes I have even found more emotional connection than I expected.
Friends-love plus chemistry is still pretty rare and amazing, in my experience, so I’m always grateful when I experience that.
Transparency and Explorations
If I reflect back on my previous relationships, there’s no less emotional commitment from me in an open relationship than when I was in monogamous relationships. The difference for me now is, things are more transparently on the table, as it were. I don’t have to pretend that I’m only ever going to be interested in that one person romantically Until The End of Time. And this way, I can be more transparent about when I need to take time to focus on other things, whether that’s a date with another lover, or if I have a book I need to finish editing.
Exploring open relationships has one additional benefit. Perhaps TMI, but I write romance about threesomes, and I have interest in that and a few other sexually adventurous things. Being in open relationships means that I have the option to try out a few of the fantasies on my bucket list. Maybe (in reality) they are as awkward as people tell me, but, I’ve talked to other friends who’ve had fun with them, so who knows. All I can say is that most people living in the assumption of monogamy don’t get to even consider doing anything like this, and tend to think of themselves as deviants for even wanting anything outside of their one relationship.
In fact–I see this a lot when I’m promoting my romance novels. I’ve written some menage-a-trois werewolf romance novels, and that genre’s pretty popular, as well as books with foursomes, fivesomes, and moresomes, usually featuring one female character and her multiple male mates. Usually it’s in the “shifter” genre (werewolves, wereleopards, etc.) of paranormal romance, but there are other romance novels where it pops up. Apparently this is a huge fantasy that many women have, but never act on, because it’s so “bad” and shameful they’d never consider doing it.
The male fantasy of being with two (or more) women is sort of a staple of porn, but women who have a similar fantasy are thought of as sluts, whores, and deviants.
Being a sex positive person, I don’t see any of these things as inherently bad, but there’s such a cultural stigma about anything that isn’t heterosexual/monogamous, or that isn’t geared toward the male gaze and heterosexual male desires, that most people never explore any of that.
Living alone for the past years has helped me to get past some of my fear of loneliness. And, though not all of my experiences of dating in the past years have gone well, they’ve at least helped me to consistently disprove that old tape that says, “I’ll never find anyone to connect with, never find anyone that gets me.” I’ve found a number of people who get me, and I’ll meet others in the future who get me.
The old tape still plays in my head, and what I know of human psychology says that I’ll always deal with that. But I have a nice little workaround for it now, because I can pretty easily say, “You’re wrong. That’s not the truth.”
What the past years have certainly taught me is that there are a lot of different ways to do relationships. Monogamy doesn’t have to be the default, but monogamy isn’t also some failing on my part for not being open-minded. Just as people have chemistry (or they don’t) people also have preferences. I’m not truly polyamorous–loving multiple people–but nor am I into totally casual sex either. In general, I experience that polyamorous folks tend to focus more on love relationships, and swingers tend to focus more on sex, particularly sex that centers on a heterosexual couple’s relationship. However, there’s a huge amount of crossover and a spectrum between them.
I’m not entirely sure what to call myself or where I’m at. I’m in open relationships at the moment, and I’m open to monogamy with the right person. What’s more important to me these days than defining what types of relationships I’m in are my boundaries around my work. That’s where my priority is. I think, as I’ve written this, I’ve ended up with more questions than answers, but that’s no surprise for me.
I’ll be working up some future articles about sex, sexuality, and relationships. What would you like to read about?
A few topics rattling in my head are the difficulties of being in open relationships, specifically, the huge social stigma attached to them. And also, some of the social trends I’ve encountered in the differences between folks who identify as polyamorous, the folks who identify as swingers, and the crossover space between those. There’s also the whole sex positive vs. sex pressuring, the whole cultural identity around “We’re such deviants, we’re so counterculture, we’re bad and naughty,” and a few other things I see out there that impact and interweave with our cultural ideas (and problems around) sex. (Me, think too much about this stuff? Naw.)
Links to the whole series: