In my last article, ‘Letter to the women who sleep with my man’, I shared words with you that came from my heart. The message is real: I have shared words like these with sisters, and I would share them again. But the letter may also create the image that an open relationship, my open relationship, is all about rose buds and fairy tales. And that is not for real.
I have written about the challenges in polyamory before. In this article I will give you a glimpse into my life, into how I experience open relationships and polyamory, my pitfalls and what works for me to find my way back.
My open relationship is the toughest and deepest path of growth I know
Research has shown that the one thing that brings the most satisfaction in our lives is not money, nor a big car, nor a career and neither an amazing sex life. What gives us the greatest and deepest sense of satisfaction and success, is personal growth.
There are many ways to learn. We can go to school, follow workshops, meditate, do therapy, have deep conversations and even try something as ayahuasca. I have tried many things to learn about myself, but in the end, relating in this experimental and open way has taught me the most.
Why, do you ask?
Because I dive deep with more than one person. I see people as mirrors of who I am; they reflect my good, bad and ugly qualities. When I have the courage to face them, and more: face myself, there are so many treasures coming my way. Because there is no external boundary telling me which experiences to have or not to have with this person, I can feel within myself in which direction and how much I want to experience.
That’s also possible with friendships of course. But I have learned that sexuality is a powerful tool for growth, because it exposes me more naked than in anything, both literally, emotionally ánd spiritually. Having the opportunity to experience this with multiple people adds much value to my life.
That sounds wonderful, doesn’t it? But…
My open relationship brings out the worst in me
Because I look deep into the mirror that these people provide me, I encounter all my hidden stuff. Emotions, insecurities, jealousy, rage, panic… I’ve been there many, many times. My open relationship is like a magnifying glass, showing me all my sh*t.
When we enter a relationship, why do we feel happy? Of course, there are butterflies, there is the happiness of being together with someone we like and love… but I believe we also enter a construction where we promise each other to make the other feel safe in a construct of social rules and paradigms. Knowing to be together with someone who will never look at another possible mate again, let alone touch them, will make you feel safe. Because we believe that our partner’s job is exactly this: making us feel safe, happy and seen. Of course this can work, if both partners feel truly happy in this construct.
Considering the amount of people cheating and breakups due to cheating, this method isn’t working very well for many people.
Another thing: when you are honest with yourself for a moment: haven’t you placed your partner in the role of your father and/or mother, giving you what you missed during childhood? I know I did. Although my parents did the best they could, I never felt really seen. I developed a fear of being unseen by the people I love. Being seen became the same as being loved. I (still) tend to place every man I relate with in that place of my father, making him responsible for me feeling seen.
When a beloved is also meeting other people, I feel how this little girl I used to be feels unseen again. The man she loves (and holds onto) is looking in another direction. It’s frightening, and at the same time these moments are the most valuable moments because it’s right then and there where I can ask a sister for support or hold myself, and give myself a different imprint: people still love me when they meet others. It’s a tough but liberating process, enabling me to give and receive love unconditionally.
My open relationship is an easy escape
I believe no person in the world is suit to meet all the needs and desires you have. Some people will meet some desires deeply. For example, I love spending time with my horses. My partner doesn’t like that at all. We don’t have a match there. There are other people I would never wish to have a family with, but with who I love to sit in the pasture and gaze at my herd. In a similar way he enjoys playing online computer games. Something I don’t fancy. It makes us both happier that he plays the games with people online that enjoy the game as much as he does.
I like to spend a lot of time with the person that meets a lot of my desires and needs, even when he doesn’t meet all of them. I like to spend less time, but diving deeply, with people who love certain things I’d like to do.
The open relationship pitfall I encounter here is that sometimes there’s something where my partner and I believe something is important to us, but in a different way. I love exploring myself through sexuality, trying some more extreme paths like SM. My partner chooses to explore intimacy in a different way than I do.
Not exploring the sides of me that I genuinely wish to explore would be holding back. Pushing my partner to fulfill desires I have but that he doesn’t have, feels unfair and has been causing arguments and stress.
I believe it’s a beautiful choice to consciously explore those things a partner cannot or wishes not to share with you, with someone else. It has been my experience that I can focus on this aspect with someone else, and neglecting the friction (because the issue is important for both of us) between me and my partner. I escape the challenge in the relationship by going elsewhere. I use the open relationship as a flight now.
The solution, as I find it at the moment, is to both allow myself to fulfill my desires with others when they are very important to me and they make me a happier person in the relationship with my partner, while at the same time I keep investing in working on the friction in the relationship. It’s a challenge, but a situation like this can bring you and your partner closer together instead of further apart. It does need open communication and being radically honest with yourself, your partner and preferably also the other person(s).
My open relationship taught me how to communicate
I learned to communicate clearly. When I’m not communicating clearly, the people around me will have no idea of my boundaries or desires. Now this is already important in daily life with a monogamous relationship. Having an open relationship, the risks of your boundaries being trespassed multiplies. Many times I was not clear in my communication, and my partner unintentionally hurt. By now we have learned to triple check with each other about our boundaries and expectations.
I have also learned to communicate honestly. The first time I had sex with another man and came home, I was trembling when I told my partner. I couldn’t look him in his eyes. I was very afraid that he would be angry or reject me in some way. In time I learned that I was safe, sharing with him. It happened a few times that I shared something he didn’t expect, or that he didn’t clearly state his boundaries so that I unintentionally hurt him. We talked it through and by now we got much better at it. I developed a rule with myself: I don’t do anything I don’t dare to share with my partner. Up until now this rule has proven to work very well.
I have learned that desiring something from someone without requesting it doesn’t feel nice for the person I’m interacting with. When my lover connects with other people, it sometimes makes me feel insecure. Some loving words from him help me to relax into the situation. I could wait for him to send me a message and even feel annoyed when he doesn’t. Or I send him some random words with the underlying desire for him to send me a message in return. But all the while, I never told him that what I actually want, are some nice words and a hug. I experience that when I simply ask my partner or whoever I wish to reassure me to tell me they still see me, they value my vulnerability and happily give me what I need.
My open relationship adds complexity to my life
Even when I feel safe and secure, communication works fine and I’m not unconsciously escaping in a connection, open relationships add complexity to my life. Making an appointment with a lover for example, sometimes requires four or more people to check their agendas. We have one car; this limits our freedom of traveling. It happened many times that I had to leave a lover’s bed at six in the morning to be back home in time.
I tend to overthink the relationships in my life. With multiple people to interact with, I tend to spend a lot of time thinking about my connections. And although the amount of love I have to give is absolutely unlimited, the amount of time I have in a week isn’t. Meeting people means less time for work and other things, although new meetings provide me with more material to write about.
There’s also complexity that I adore, and that’s social complexity. I’m surrounded with people who have creative relationships. Sometimes there are webs of people relating with each other. There was a time for example when I was seeing a couple, and my partner was seeing her sister.
All in all…
My open relationship is definitely challenging me. A monogamous relationship provides security, but I wouldn’t want to go back at the moment. I love the fact that my relationship brings up so many things that I like and that I hate, liberating me a little more each day.