Opening Up

I first started becoming interested in non-monogamy about five years ago, for two very, very bad reasons: I wasn’t happy with the relationship I was in at the time, and someone new had begun flirting with me.

Too afraid to leave the relationship I was in (which I had convinced myself was the “right” relationship for me, one that would last forever) but unable to deny the fact that I was unhappy and needed something to change, I starting thinking that maybe there was just something wrong with me, that I was just wired differently and needed to love multiple people, that I could never be happy with just one.

Now, of course, I know that’s all rubbish. For me, at least. It was just a justification, for me, to place the problems of our relationship elsewhere, to chalk up my distancing myself from my boyfriend and our rapidly declining sex life to a need to be with other people.

While I was searching for validation of those justifications, I did a lot of online reading and picked up a few books as well (The Ethical Slut and Redefining Our Relatinonships). All of it did more to frustrate me than entice me, because so much of it was vague, contradictory, and infused with a new-agey spiritualism. Sometimes people seemed to agree with my thought that “poly is an orientation,” that some people just needed to have multiple partners in their lives. Other times they seemed approach non-monogamy as some sort of “advanced” relationship model, vastly superior to monogamy and even politically radical—thus, something that everyone should aspire to, not something that some folks need and others don’t.

I eventually gave up, but not after I had really sent that relationship on a nosedive. When I started dating my current partner, we talked a little about our experiences with or impressions of non-monogamy, and both of us indicated that we weren’t really interested in doing that. And for three years, I was totally happy with our monogamous relationship.

Then, about eight months ago, my partner brought up the issue again. I was completely surprised, but my initial reaction was one of excitement and happiness, not fear or concern. I immediately recognized that unlike what I’d done in my previous relationship, he was starting to think about non-monogamy again not because he secretly wanted out of our relationship but because he felt a sense of security with me, because he felt that we could now trust each other enough to do it right. But then, a couple of really bad bouts of insecurity and envy (mostly due to another woman he’d expressed an attraction to) left me totally unprepared to actually venture forward with talking about what that sort of relationship would actually look like for us. My partner dropped the issue entirely.

Now, I’m starting to reconsider, and we’ve started talking about it again. Or rather, talking about talking about it. (Sheesh.) My partner borrowed a copy of Opening Up by Tristan Taormino, with the idea that we’d both read it and then start out by discussing it. It’s fantastic, everything I wish I could have found five years ago. (It also helps that it’s extremely kink-friendly, to the point that I think a non-kinky person reading the book would probably be a little confused by how prevalent discussions of BDSM are in the book.) It lacks both the “the only real/good non-monogamy is polyamory” of The Ethical Slut and the gushing “non-monogamy is radical!” rhetoric of Redefining Our Relationships, providing a wealth of information of all kinds of non-monogamy styles, common problems people face, and the important questions to ask before opening up a relationship.

(More to come once I finish the book…)

Meanwhile, as for my specific fears around opening up my current relationship: I’m realizing that I could never be one of those people who simply says “I don’t want to know.” I not only want to know, I want to meet the person. Or at least, I want to know about them. Specifically, I need to be reassured of their flaws—any flaws—and weaknesses, so that they become human to me and not the “perfect match” for my partner that I know I would fear each and every one of them to be. That woman I mentioned above, the one I was so terrified by my partner’s attraction to? I’ve gotten to know her better since then, and guess what—that sense of intimidation, that fear, is completely gone. That isn’t to say that I feel a total lack of jealousy if I think about him fucking her, but that it isn’t overwhelming, as it once was. It’s really interesting to feel that change.

6 comments so far

  1. d on

    Whenever I read other people’s thoughts on ‘The Ethical Slut’, I feel like I read an entirely different book. I think that book put forward an extremely individualist take on relationships that is at odds with most examples of polyamory that I’ve encountered (which seem to be monogamous relationships involving multiple people, the appeal of which is beyond my comprehension). There is a lot of awesome shit in that book about relationships that makes sense to me just on the level of relating to anyone, of carrying myself in the world. I keep meaning to make a zine of all the parts I liked that leave out the hippy shit.

    Glad to hear that the Taormino book is good. I will get around to it eventually. If only her porn was better…

  2. Andy on

    I’ve been reading your blog for about a year now, but I don’t think I’ve ever commented. I mostly wanted to thank you for writing it, and give you kudos on getting anarkink going. I too am an anarchist and a sub (ironically, I am also a buddhist and an asexual but that’s another story).I live in a very rural area, and am pretty jealous that I don’t have a pace where I can go to even meet like-minded (I hate that turn of phrase) people. I’d love to either have more anarchists or more kinsters in my life, much less the fusion. Anyways, I just thought I’d take a moment to say that I think what you’re doing is awesome.


  3. subversive_sub on

    @d — Interesting. I can see what you mean by the individualist take in “Ethical Slut” (and I feel like I should probably go re-read it now; it’s been a couple of years) but to me the authors seemed to take a very strict attitude of “if you’re non-monogamous, you should have sex with lots and lots of different people” — to the exclusion of a lot of other different forms of non-monogamy, including the model you refer to (which is actually one of the forms that’s most interesting and appealing to me). It’s just that exclusiveness that rubs me the wrong way. And the hippy new-agey stuff, of course.

    @Andy — aw, thanks!

  4. mottled on

    I absolutely agree with your “meet the other person” approach. We’ve been poly for years now, but I still find it incredibly important to meet the person so that a) you can have some chance of liking them (because I really believe it helps me think about my partner with someone if there’s at least SOMETHING about the person I like) and b) so that you don’t have all of those worst-case-scenarios in your head about how they’re amazing and perfect.

    I actually have a long-distance person I’m seeing who’s in a ltr and when I was in town, the partner didn’t want to meet me and I almost freaked out. I thought we’d both be so much happier if she could see that I’m human and if we could find some common ground. I couldn’t imagine her ever getting comfortable with the situation if she didn’t have first-hand knowledge of my stupid sense-of-humor and how big the pores on my nose are, y’know?

    My wife also have mandatory talks after dates, makeouts, etc., because that also really diffuses the jealousy and insecurity for me. I hate how my brain imagines every kiss she has with another person to be MINDBLOWING, fireworks, and all that jazz, when really the person had nice lips, but questionable breath, etc. Also- there’s a certain bonding that goes on with sharing all (ok, some) of the details with your person. It’s another way that she’s my bestfriend- I tell her about all of my kisses and crushes:)

  5. Dw3t-Hthr on

    Heh. I went through a phase of reviewing poly books on the “I’ll suffer through this so you don’t have to” principle. So many of them are soooo baaaaaaaad.

  6. tor on

    Hmm, maybe I will track down the Taormino book. I’ve never found a poly book that has really spoken to me. I totally agree about the hippy new age stuff that finds its way into a lot of poly resources, ugh.

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