The more public we get about our open relationship, the more my husband and I encounter similar questions. Most of the questions we encounter aren’t actually malicious but a combination of curiosity and concern. I recently read two excellent blog posts, one about navigating the holidays at your family of origin when you are part of a poly relationship and the other about how one couple makes their open relationship work. It was encouraging to read posts by people who had similar lives to ours and it made me want to write my own post. So, today’s post is a response to our most frequently asked questions.
The questions we get most frequently are: Why? Are you polyamorous to cover up a deeper problem in your marriage? Are there rules? Do you get jealous? That question is usually followed by either “I could never do it!” or “I’d be way too jealous!” What if you fall in love with someone else? Are you greedy? And, because we have a child, we get: What about your daughter? And, of course we get the logistical questions: how do you meet someone, go on a date, Etc.
Well, we are delving further into a polyamorous lifestyle because we believe it is part of our most authentic selves. It began as a way to explore areas of our sex lives that we hadn’t been ready to explore before our marriage, but now it has grown into a larger part of our lives. We have come to realize that there are incredible benefits to sharing our lives with other people, and not limiting that just to friendship or a sexual relationship, but also to romance and relationship.
Are you polyamorous to cover up a deeper problem in your marriage?
Especially because we have had a lot of difficulties in our marriage over the years, we encounter this question a lot. And, I think it is a fair one. I am sure, that at times, people do reach for an open marriage when they are trying to avoid divorce or deal with issues in the bedroom. We were absolutely certain this wasn’t us, but when we recently looked at getting divorced, we had to re-examine our motivations for being in an open marriage and see if they were because of sexual or other incompatibilities. For a while, we wondered if our issues had unconsciously led us to choosing an open marriage. But, actually I think it was the other way around. Despite our issues, we still managed to both grow in the same direction and realize that our desire for polyamory is authentic to who we are. It isn’t a last stitch effort to stay together sort of thing.
Actually, our recent break up and reconciliation wasn’t at all motivated by our recent relationships with other people. That part, while it provided us with a lot to talk about and work through, was actually going well. Like many other couples we had a lot of things bearing down on us like stress and money that ultimately made us separate. It wasn’t the jealousy and it wasn’t that the other person didn’t please us or make us happy anymore. Though, I have come to learn that it can be debilitating to expect one person to completely fulfill you and meet all of your needs and interests (for both parties). And, I have learned that when a person can’t meet you in one of those areas it doesn’t make them an unsuitable partner. We both still want to have sex with each other and we learn to grow in this area constantly. But, we also want sexual experiences with other people. We both still want to romance each other; we also want to experience new romances. We still love to grow and learn and share our interests with each other; we want to share our interests with us too. When we faced divorce, we realized that we had let ourselves slide in our communication, in our sex life and in sharing our interests. We had to look at how we could revitalize those things. The stability of our relationship still comes first to us. It is something that we constantly have to keep tabs on.
Are there rules?
There are most definitely rules. We actually sat down and typed up our rules together. We used to keep a copy of them in the car and have even given them to partners. I think we are easing up on the giving them to partners thing- a long list of rules can be intimidating and off-putting. We have realized some things are not as important as we thought. On the other hand, we have learned that some things affect us more than we expected. For example, I learned the hard way that I cannot be in the house when he has a partner in our room (unless we are all together). Physically seeing him behind a closed door with someone else does something to me, and I find it upsetting. He learned that he can’t be in the room when I am texting someone back and forth. In both of those instances we have learned that we don’t like the feeling of being out of the loop. We don’t mind our partner engaging in those activities, we just don’t want to be in the room for them. There are definitely rules that make it onto the list after an experience doesn’t go as planned or as we learn ourselves better. But, in general they go a little something like this:
1. Kissing and “feeling someone up” (for lack of a better term) do not require a prior discussion. They are free reign and should be done as the person deems appropriate. They just require you tell the other person after the fact.
2. Any other form of sex requires a discussion in advance. Each partner retains the right to say no to a potential partner for the other person.
3. In most circumstances the other person must meet the partner in advance of sex or anything serious. There are cases where this doesn’t apply. But, if someone is a potential longer term relationship, then everyone must meet.
4. We must disclose to the new partner that we are married. If they are with someone too, all parties must be on the same page.
5. Oral sex seems to be a point of contention, mostly from an STD standpoint. So, the rules are actually a little stricter on oral sex than they are on intercourse. So, this one remains on a case by case basis.
6. Safe sex at all times is a requirement.
7. There are a few very specific things that we never do with any other partner, and we both know that doing them in the context of another relationship would constitute cheating.
8. You never have to do anything you don’t want to. Either party can say they need a break from seeing other people in general or that they aren’t comfortable with a particular partner. If we are in a group situation and either of us says we aren’t comfortable it ends immediately for both of us (obviously if the partner(s) says they are uncomfortable it ends too).Constant communication is the most important. Since there are no secrets between us, our new partners have to know in advance that we will be telling our spouse what happens. We do this so that new partners can decide if they are comfortable with that disclosure or not.
Do you get jealous?
Yes. I think people who say they never get jealous are lying. We have learned that it is usually weird things that make us jealous. Not often the things you would expect. Sometimes it is little things shared with another partner that get to us. I got jealous once because he held someone’s hand under a blanket in front of me. It was just because it felt secret, had it been in the open I wouldn’t have cared. It’s odd what you find gets to you. The rule on jealousy is that we talk about it right away so that it can’t get bigger or get between us. Jealous is often such a dirty word, that we were both sort of afraid to admit jealousy at first. But, we have learned that it can have a healthy and honest place within a relationship. We spend a lot of time looking at why a certain thing makes us jealous and often we learn a lot about ourselves, each other and our limitations. It is not a possessive jealousy, we understand that our reasons for wanting the open relationship are greater than the reasons for jealousy, but we still allow ourselves our emotions. We have learned that allowing and owning your emotions is key. We need to name our emotions. We have learned that we have to admit our emotions even when we are surprised by them ourselves. Honestly, sometimes it isn’t pretty. There has definitely been crying. There will be crying again. You try to learn what gets to the other person (our jealousy triggers are definitely different), so you can avoid hurting them. But, balancing an attempt not to hurt your partner and staying authentic in all your relationships can be tricky.
What if you fall in love with someone else?
This is a completely real concern. The number one answer is: be honest about it. It is not easy to hear that your partner is in love with someone else, but we have agreed to always tell. When we first thought about an open relationship, we saw it more as sex. So, we thought we would just put up safe guards not to fall in love with other people, never letting ourselves get to close. That has changed. The more we look into living a polyamorous lifestyle and talk about living with other partners, the more there is a realization that love is a possibility. The word “love” sucks. It is too vague. There are so many types of love. I find it hard to believe that I will ever be in love with someone the way I am with my husband. We have a love that has made a daughter; a love that has brought us through all kinds of things. So, in terms of loving someone like I love him, I don’t think that is likely. He has echoed similar statements. But, I also know myself well enough to know that on more than one occasion I have been convinced I was in love, some of those during our marriage. It has never been the same as how I feel about him, and maybe it isn’t even being “in love.” I think there are levels to love. I think that it is likely that at times we will love our partners; in fact, I know that to be true. We love our friends, so it stands to reason that we will love the partners that grow into a deeper friendship than just a casual fling. I am not totally sure I can articulate what separates our love from the love I have for other partners. I can say there is a difference. I would have previously said that my husband is the only one that I wanted to settle down and build a life with, but now that isn’t even an appropriate definition of our love as we leave room for the possibility of making a life with one or more other partners. So, maybe our love exists in that place that defies language in a place that we can feel is different, but we can’t explain to other people. I used to think that a marriage could recover from someone being unfaithful but not from one of the partners falling in love with someone else. I think, if anything, a relationship may not be able to recover if you fall out of love with your partner. But, falling in love with someone else does not mean you are not still in love with your partner. So, I am open to a world where there is room to love more than one person. Relationships are unique and so is the love that forms in them. The answer then to all of these questions is basically the same: honesty and transparency. If it happens, you have to talk about it.
Are you greedy?
I hate this question. I especially hate it when we get it for being out as bisexual (which is an orientation not a choice). But, I do not like it in terms of our lifestyle choice to be polyamorous (that is a choice). Anyone who knows us knows that this isn’t why we live this way. We don’t do it to get as many partners as we can or have our cake and eat it too (a phrase I have always despised- because if someone gives you a piece of cake why the hell wouldn’t you eat it?). It actually can be the opposite of greedy (I don’t want to say selfless because that isn’t accurate), you are sharing your most beloved person with someone else. So, no we are not greedy people.
What about your daughter?
I have spoken to this in a previous blog. After which several people unfriended (is that a word?) (is that a word?) me on Facebook and some even told me I was a bad mother. First of all, whether you have one partner or ten, no one has sex in front of their kids. Everyone tries to be discreet about these things with their children. When we have partners over, it isn’t any different to Aimee than when we have our friends over. When she is older she may have questions, but like everything else we will answer them candidly. Obviously, if/when we choose to live in community with other people our daughter will be a factor. We would only enter such a living arrangement with someone else if it was an enhancement for everyone involved, and only if they loved our child. There are polyamorous families who have children. It can be done, everyone agrees to pitch in with the child(ren) and everyone loves them and looks out for them. We would be adding love to her world. And, yes there is the possibility of being ridiculed at school for having parents who live in community, but I think that has a lot to do with the messages parents give their children. So, we would attempt to make sure we surrounded her world with open minded adults and their children. Obviously, we would want to protect her from ridicule or confusions, but if it came up, we would handle it like everything else, we would talk about it. Our understanding of love will not hurt our daughter. I think it “hurts” (read: offends) adults who don’t understand it, and then they use our child as a way to attack our life choices. I assure you that we will do our best to grow our daughter into a beautiful, loving, and well-rounded adult. We will do that no matter who is in our bedroom, whom we love, how we love or how many people we love.
How do you meet someone, go on a date, etc?
Ah, A logistical question. I like the logistical questions. They seem less morally heavy and totally worth asking, since frankly, there is a little navigating to this whole process. So, we are interested in a couple of things. Ultimately, we want to find a couple or two (or an individual) who are a great fit for both of us. Ideally, they would be bi-sexual so that there would be freedom in terms of pairing up sexually. We would want to sort of date them. We want a couple or person to go out with and try new restaurants and go to shows. We also want someone who wants to stay in and watch movies and snuggle up all together on the couch, someone to talk with and share with. We are really looking for a relationship, not just sex. However, we know that such a couple or individual isn’t necessarily that easy to find. And, in the pursuit of such a couple or person, we don’t want to miss other great people. There is a reality that sometimes one of us makes a connection to a person and the other one does not. So, we leave room for that possibility. That is where the individual dating comes in.
So far we have fallen into our relationships with other people. There are friends and acquaintances that over time you realize have similar views on relationships, sex and openness. Figuring out if things could happen between you is still never a graceful conversation (at least not yet). I have tried the bold approach, “my husband says I can sleep with you,” and the subtle trying to figure out where someone stands by asking leading questions. And, like the awkward moments of monogamous dating, you do the “accidental” brush of your hand on someone else’s….hand. But, it gets easier once people know you are in an open relationship. Of course, you do run the risk that your friends wonder if you just want to be friends with them to get with them. The majority of our friends are platonic and we are more than fine with that. It is important for us to have friends that are just friends. And, frankly it is a point of anxiety for us when we wonder if our friends are nervous around us trying to figure out if we are trying to sleep with them. It changes our individual relationships too. When you are someone’s married monogamous friend, it is clear where the boundary is. Married non-monogamous friend, less clear.
We have spent the last six months on somewhat of a break from this lifestyle as we settle in to our new area and as we worked through our own relationship things. But, as of recently we are (slowly) hitting the dating world. We put out an ad in the paper (yep-we did that): Polyamorous couple seeks polyamorous couple. Filling the questioner out for one of those things is a bit daunting. More daunting still, is the online dating profile. We both joined an online dating site. That has been, interesting.
Online dating certainly welcomes all types of people. You definitely encounter your share of creeps that hover online waiting for anyone with a pulse to chat with ( I have seen some “pulse optional” types), those who are into things with acronyms that I don’t even want to or pretend understand and those who expect you to have supermodel looks never mind their photoshopped picture. But, you get the occasional bread maker who lives off the land and loves everyone, or the guy who still has a soft spot for punk rock; these people welcome further conversation.
On the site we joined you can see how many people view your profile. This is a feature I do not like. You have to have a thick skin basically, because unlike real life encounters where you may not know if someone is interested or not, a view of the profile and no message means “no thanks.” There are inevitably more “no thanks” than there are messages. Yet, the pressure is lessened because we are already together. So, we are at a “take us as we are or leave us” kind of place in our lives. We aren’t searching for our “one”, so in a lot of ways we feel freer to be ourselves in our profiles and less obligated to continue talking to people who aren’t a good fit. Especially because we have a child we do not go out that much, so this helps us make sure that we meet more people and go out with the ones that are the best fit. I am still a little leery of meeting someone in person that I met online, but having a spouse who either comes with you or at least knows where you are going and with whom is really nice. The reality is this. There are far more straight men on the site we are on than there are straight women or anyone in the LGBTQ community, that dynamic affects our dynamic. Almost by default then, I have more messages. There haven’t been a lot of people yet who are interested in dating us as a couple, or people who are interested in couples in general. Mostly, we have found people who are just interested in us as individuals, people who are ok with the fact that we are married, but just want to get to know one of us. We have discussed it and are open to this form of dating. But, we approach it with more caution and stress communication even more because it is a new world to navigate and it has the potential to leave one of us feeling left out.
Some of the people we have encountered would make really great friends, and so we have been using the site to meet like-minded people in that way as well. We have yet to meet anyone off of the site, so I really can’t say how navigating that all goes. But, I think the plan is to approach it like dating: one date at a time. It has been great fun for us as we read the compatibility questions and learn even more about each other. It is fun to see who the other is attracted to. This is especially nice given that we both like people of all genders. It’s fun to help each other get ready for dates and to dish about it afterwards. It is a bonding experience for us and ultimately builds intensity and understanding between us.
Since becoming polyamorous we have become better mates to each other. We are not commitment -phobic, greedy people. Our new partners are not chosen instead of our spouse. They are chosen in addition to our spouse. We are not cheating (though cheating can exist inside an open marriage if you go outside the established rules), we are enhancing our relationship. We recognize that for many couples this would not be an enhancement of their marriage. We acknowledge and respect all marriages and understand that each marriage is unique. We do not think we are more enlightened than other people. We think we are more enlightened versions of ourselves than we had previously been, but we never apply that to other people’s relationships. Some people use the argument for open marriage that it is natural and that monogamy is unnatural; that nature proves it. I don’t know what I think about it. I am not sure that I would even argue for open marriage except to the extent that it should be respected as a choice. I think it is much too individual of a choice to tell others what to do, but then so is monogamy. I have learned more about myself and what I am looking for in a partner(s) than in almost any other process. It has made me redefine the idea of soul mate, marriage and even love (for myself). So, the only thing I am willing to say is that I am an advocate of open marriages and polyamory if it works for the people involved. I am an advocate of it in my own relationship. This is the way we currently make our open relationship work, and I suspect that logistics of that will change over time too.
So, dear readers a few questions for you: Does this post affect how you see open marriages and polyamory? What other questions do you have about this world? What thoughts, emotions or questions does this discussion stir up for you? As always, I welcome your comments and questions.
Thank You for taking time to read this post.