I imagine most people would think open relationships are principally about sex.
I’ve never been a big fan of the phrase “polyamory” because to my ears it seems like a misfits society you join and go to dippy meetings full of overweight people in purple muumuus. (Yes, we went to a meeting like that in San Francisco, once.) But the concept of “multiple love” does speak to my aspirations in this approach to love and marriage.
I suppose it’s easier for monotonous people (I’m sorry, I mean monogamous) to get their heads around the concept of multiple sex partners rather than multiple love partners. If it’s “just about sex,” maybe that’s something “normal” people can at least conceive of, if not actually consider for themselves. But falling in love with and expressing ongoing love for other people? Now that’s scary. Even for us.
I’ve been skimming a few other blogs and writings out there on the subject of open love since starting this blog. I see from my traffic logs from a lot of the search-generated traffic to this site appears to be people trying to evaluate if this lifestyle is for them. Maybe one thing that may set this blog apart is I don’t want to be an uncritical booster for open relationships. Over the last 18 years of living this way with Wife, sometimes it has come easily for us. Sometimes, it’s fucking hard. Lately, more so the latter.
Aside from always using condoms, we don’t really have any fixed rules about our outside relationships. We’ve always made it up as we went. We have a few other guidelines, but I wouldn’t call them rules. Don’t ever have sex with other partners in our home is one; one that’s been violated by each of us at least once or twice. Don’t fall in love with someone else so much that you leave me is obviously the big one, which thankfully has never been violated yet. As I noted in my Jealousy post, that’s the one everyone assumes will be our downfall, but I honestly don’t think we’re at much higher risk for that than all the frustrated and cheating “monogamous” folks out there.
Other than those, I can’t think of any others we’ve agreed on. But we’re constantly evolving the relationship as we go. For sure, the secret to success, ours anyway, is open communication. That doesn’t feel good? Why not? Can we find a compromise? We’ve been in that situation lately with respect to the love of others.
For most of our many years of doing this, I didn’t have many trysts, much less “relationships” with other women, still trapped by my high school insecurities around “seducing” the fairer sex. Then a few years ago, around the time I turned 40, that changed. I finally began to understand what of my qualities were attractive to women and how to bring them to the fore. For a little while, I was like a mutant teenager discovering my secret superpower, and I went on a tear and tried to bed as many women as I could. Wife wasn’t overly enthused about that, so I backed it off, and for the last year and a half or so, I’ve been satisfied with my loving relationship with Wife, a casual sexual relationship with a woman here in NYC (which we broke off amicably a few months ago), a loving relationship with a married (“cheating”) woman abroad (“The European”), whom I see a few times a year, and, another woman let’s call “The Free Spirit.”
Wife did have some trouble adjusting to my relationship with The European initially, because our passion and emotional connection was intense from the beginning. In earlier years, Wife had a couple of strong emotionally bonded relationship with other men outside of our marriage, but not for a while. She’s had a number of lovers since, but all of them quite casual. The European was really the first woman since Wife that I fell in love with (requited, anyway), and that wasn’t easy for Wife to witness. But recently, she’s come to more than just accept it, but to embrace it, as she’s come to adore The European herself. (Wife and I are both straight, so I’m just talking about friendship and respect, not threesomes, alas.)
But The Free Spirit is a different story. She and I have dated for more than a year, but for most of that time she was living on the opposite coast and we saw each other just a few times. Two months ago, however, she moved back to NYC. Wife was wary at the time, but I assured her I wasn’t going to fall in love with The Free Spirit. I was wrong.
Long story somewhat shorter, our passion built fast, Wife was unhappy about it, and The Free Spirit recently concluded the limitations on our love — her destiny to second-class status, never for her and me to fully share our lives — was too much to bear. Yesterday, she broke us up.
My writing style may come off as rather clinical, I realize, as my intention in this blog project is not to brag about my personal life but to share a perspective for those who are considering this way of life for themselves. But believe me, I’m brokenhearted. I remain hopeful we can find some new approach, tempering down the obsessiveness of our passion and remain in each other’s lives, and preferably also in each other’s beds. But it’s hard to know at the moment whether that’s likely.
The Free Spirit blames herself, but to me it’s clear that I’m to blame. I know how this story goes. A few years earlier, I had another single girlfriend, and the outcome was similar: the game ended in stalemate and we called it quits. (We’re still good friends, I’m happy to report.) It’s obviously to me by now that the singletons in the unholy triangles of love we have to offer get a raw deal. From the outset, I explain to all lovers that I have no intention to ever leave Wife. I love her deeply. We have our own satisfying sex life. We are planning our lives around the vision of growing old together. I’d certainly be happy to still be loving other partners in my dotage, as well, but it’s unlikely we’ll go the route of some communal cohabitation. Wife is my primary partner, and that’s that. That deal may seem fine when it’s all fun and games, but when emotions start getting intense, it’s not such a fair bargain for the outside party.
So if I know that already, why would I invite that fate for someone I care for? It’s a conundrum, like the Mobius strip: maybe I don’t care for her enough to defend her against it until I do care for her that much, and by then it’s too late. That sounds like lighthearted wordplay. But really it’s like an addiction. You always hurt the ones you love, right?
My addiction, I’m concluding in the wake of this, is perhaps love itself. More specifically, falling in love. What greater high is there in life than that? Yet like any powerful high, it can be a dangerous one. Falling in love is certainly one thrill polyamory affords couples that monogamy never can. Sure, traditional-minded couples may delude themselves into thinking they’re falling in love over and over every day. But really? After 18 years together? No. That’s “being in love,” if you’re lucky. But not falling in love. Maybe if you have a long shitty spell in your relationship and you play past it, it might somehow feel like falling in love again. But not really. The electricity of discovering a new personality, a new body, new emotions, it’s ineffable. And no amount of role-playing in the bedroom can come close to the real thing. You can’t bottle it. You can only experience it, should you be so blessed.
But there’s always too much of a good thing. I know Wife loves me deeply, and she knows I love her. We tell each other that several times a day. We are one of the most loving couples we know. How can we believe we’re so much in love and yet still want to love other people? It’s hard question to answer succinctly, and maybe a subject for a future post. But it’s true. And I know The European loves me, and I love her. So why isn’t that enough? Why should I be so greedy that I want to draw yet another woman close to me, beyond the point where I know it’s safe for both of us, for all three of us?
I don’t know the answer to that question. It disturbs me. I’m still thinking about it.