First Steps

When my partner and I began making plans to open our relationship, we came to an agreement I thought was quite sensible: he’d give me two months, during which time I’d make an effort to start putting more work into my relationships with other friends, to start spending more time outside the house and with other people, and to start seriously investing myself in my own projects, again. I felt that all of this would enormously help me in being okay with the idea of my partner being with someone else; I need to first be okay with spending less time with my partner, and then be okay with him using that extra time to be with someone else.

A month has passed since then, and I think I’ve done pretty well. I’ve been feeling pretty confident about the two-month mark, a trip my partner was planning that would include visiting a girl he’s interested in. I felt this would be a good first step — someone I didn’t know, someone I didn’t have to interact with socially, someone I knew wasn’t in any way a threat to our relationship, because she lives halfway across the country. I felt like I was ready for that.

Then my partner decided he wasn’t going on that trip. And I realized that I was tired of trying to ease my way into things, trying to take baby steps that were getting us virtually nowhere. I was actually looking forward to his traveling to visit this girl, because I’ve been anxious to see what it’s going to really feel like, anxious to figure out whether or not I can actually handle this kind of relationship. So last week, I told my partner that I didn’t want to put off the inevitable, and said that I wanted to just “officially” declare our relationship open.

For the past few days I’ve been teetering between “doing really well, considering,” and “fucking miserable.” On Saturday night, at a show, he ended up making out with a girl we’d both met relatively recently — he’d previously told me that he thought there was a mutual attraction there, so it wasn’t all that unexpected. He did everything right: he made sure I knew, before he went to the show, that this girl was going to be there; he gave me lots of affection and reassurance; he didn’t let things progress too quickly with the other girl, and made sure to talk to her about me and about our relationship; he let her know that this was a new thing for us, and that it might be difficult for me to deal with at first. He called me from the show to let me know exactly what had happened, and said we could talk it all over when he got home. And we did talk, and we both cried and held each other, and then we played a few games of Boggle. (Which actually made me feel far better and more normal than any amount of talking had been able to accomplish…)

The next day, the girl was over at our house for a regular Sunday-night event that we host; she’s been coming regularly for a few months, which is how we met her, and it would have felt strange to me if she hadn’t just shown up as normal. But I couldn’t look at her, when she came in — not because I was upset with her, but because I just had no idea how I was supposed to behave. Should I take her aside to talk to her? Should I just say hello, smile at her to let her know that we’re cool, and leave it at that? Should I act like nothing’s happened? And how do I behave around her friends and roommates, who probably have some idea of what’s going on?

I was expecting to feel jealous, isolated, left out. But that’s not entirely what I’m feeling. More than anything else, I’m feeling awkward, unsure of myself, and worried about what other people are feeling and thinking. Instead of feeling abandoned by my partner, I’m finding myself feeling worried that this other girl will feel left out and hurt when my partner is affectionate with me in public but not with her. At the same time, I’m afraid of people knowing how painful this is for me, watching me to see if I’m doing okay when we’re all in the same room, asking me how I’m feeling. I think that to most people, I come across as an extremely together, sensible, healthy person. That’s the face I’ve cultivated my entire life, because I’ve always been reluctant to show anything I consider to be weakness or vulnerability. And right now, at a time when I’m feeling pretty fucking vulnerable, my first concern is to keep up that protection, keep people from seeing what I’m feeling — even when I don’t exactly know, yet, what it even is that I’m feeling. Even worse, because this particular girl is a part of my social circle, I’m afraid of showing or talking about how much this is hurting because I don’t want to alienate her or make people feel like she (or my partner) is doing anything wrong. I don’t want to make mutual friends feel awkward for being in the middle. Yet I also really don’t want to keep pretending that I’m doing okay.

…and this is all the rush of everything happening in a matter of days, and I know that not everything needs to be resolved right away, that these things take time. I’m being buffeted by strange emotions and unexpected feelings, and until I can make some sense of them I expect that I’ll continue to feel this self-consciousness, this not-knowing-how-to-behave. Looking forward to getting to the other side of this.

2 comments so far

  1. smdevil on

    Please let me share a completely different approach to open relationships. I think it is “ok” to keep each relation separate and fairly insulated from the others. If you choose that you will completely talk about everything you do and meet the other partners, befriend, etc., well it is your decision as long as you are convinced that it is the best way and that you will be so strong as to avoid feeling awkward and confused all kind of negative feelings, or that you choose that you want to have these feelings. I just don’t think that you “have” to listen to and report all encounters and be aware of each others’ private life, because otherwise it is not “honest” enough, or any other ethical reason. What works best, that is the ethical path.

  2. blackdove on

    again, great post! I’ve been in an open relationship with my live in partner for three (active) years, and I still don’t know how to deal with that stuff! Usually though, it’s when they’re making out in front of me. . .ha. Umm. . . do I look over here? Do i look at them? Do I stare obviously like some perv? Do I twiddle my thumbs? We quickly put an end to that ridiculousness, and now I’m quite comfortable hugging, shopping with and texting my partner’s girlfriend. But I can imagine those first few times! You’ll get the hang of it, just give her a HUG, and maybe a wink. The rest will come naturally, because you were friends to start off with 🙂

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