Natalie Vartanian talks about how to explore beyond monogamy.
Even in the year 2013, we continue to look at monogamy (closed relationships) as the only way to be in relationship (or the right way). We grew up thinking getting married, only sleeping with your spouse the rest of your life and having kids was what your relationship should look like.
Yet the divorce rate keeps rising and cheating continues to be a prominent reason for break ups. At the end of the day this is the conclusion I came to:
It is evident that this traditional model for relationships may not be for everyone.
Just for that reason I began taking an honest look at my beliefs about relationships and questioning if they are truly mine or what I adopted from media, society or parents.
It took me looking at my boundaries and baggage when it came to sex from an honest and exploratory place to become more comfortable with unconventional. I was open to seeing for myself what would work and not work when it came to my relationships – both casual and committed.
I got over this feeling that being horny is bad. Or that women should XYZ when it comes to sex (whatever the social rule is around it).
I came to really accept that the the idea of open excites me. I enjoy knowing I may get to have ‘out of the usual’, whether that is trying something new like a threesome with my other half or having a fling with a hottie for a night. I get turned on thinking of or imagining the person I am with having their own sexy experience.
I understand it may frustrate some people or make them super insecure, however for me I am willing to manage my fears and insecurities for this type of payoff.
What shocked me the most when I started talking about my interest in open relationships with my friends and people I would meet was not the reaction from women, but the reaction from men.
Call me crazy but I thought being in an open relationship would be every guy’s wet dream. Turns out, it wasn’t.
What I heard was that the thought (i.e. the visual) of their girlfriend with another guy was too much. Note: Another guy.
Interesting though that if it was another girl, as was the case in a couple of open relationships I encountered, that would be more tolerable or even acceptable. Dichotomy #1.
But maybe they had explored the parameters of what was comfortable in opening their relationship and found the scenario that worked for them.
What was the most frustrating for me, however, was how open relationships are almost looked at as FAKE. At least what I heard a couple of times was “But it’s not like you are in a REAL relationship”. As if the same rules don’t apply.
Spoiler alert: Not only do the same rules apply, but throw in another 25 to 50 new ones.
The fact that there needs to be pretty clear boundaries and a structure in polyamory is contrary to most people’s perceptions that open relationships are super carefree and fuck fests. Dichotomy #2.
You can’t simply throw all caution to the wind and do whatever the hell you want … in any relationship, open or closed.
This may be a shocker to some people but there is constant communication (and I mean, constant) that has to take place in order for both (all) parties in the relationship to feel comfortable, heard and cared for. You need to make sure you are meeting in the middle – it’s called compromise!
On the other hand, I also used to hear from folks, when I told them I was exploring open relationships, that it seemed like a lot of work being in an open relationship. Last I checked, closed relationships were a lot of work too.
The work in an open relationship is simply different. As mentioned before, it is about managing jealousy and insecurity, i.e. the ‘emotional’ part. The question I would get most frequently from my lady friends was “How do you not get attached with a person when becoming intimate with them?”
To me it is not about staying detached and being unemotional. I don’t know about you, but I actually WANT to care about the person I am sleeping with.
You can be intimate with your casual partners even though you are not in a committed relationship with them. Dichotomy #3.
Sure sometimes you could care less about anything but getting off and that is fun too. But for the most part, having sex with a person I do not respect or am fond of really does not appeal to me.
My main trick is I try not to compare. Because the people I am intimate with are not the same. They are different human beings. They fulfill different needs, my primary partner versus any of my casual partners.
I see it more like ‘This experience with my casual partner does not take away from what I feel with/for my boyfriend or the ways in which my boyfriend fulfills me and makes me so happy.’ I have learned about myself a long time ago that I have a LOT of love to give. What I am realizing now is that it will not ‘run out’ if I care for more than one person.
Do jealousies and insecurities pop up from time to time. Hell yeah they do!
Anyone that tells you they don’t experience jealousy is lying or biologically ‘special’. Unless you were born with some genes missing, it is completely normal to experience feelings of fear around your partner leaving you because they prefer someone else.
When those emotions pop up, you identify the jealousy and deal with it appropriately. Ignoring jealousy will inevitably lead to resentment and eventually heartache. Monogamous relationships are not immune to jealousy either.
The difference is opportunities for it to pop up in open relationships are greater. However working through those feelings can be one of the greatest self-esteem boosting tool ever. Dichotomy #4.
There is a great article on jealousy as part of the list of resources included at the end of this post. I know I have used it myself to take a long, hard look at my own feelings of insecurity and it helped to pinpoint what was really going on underneath. Trust me when I say, it had nothing to do with my partner or who he was being intimate with.
For me, I enjoy the freedom, flexibility and fun of an open relationship. As well as the immense growth and learning I experience when in one.
But to each their own. I have never and would never say that everyone needs to be in an open relationship. Just like not everyone needs to be in a closed (monogamous) relationship.
You need to explore for yourself what works for you!
And by all means, if you are curious, experiment! Then you can decide from a place of experience and not assumption.
As promised, the following are some great resources if you are interested in exploring open relationships:
Article: Models of Open Relationships
Book: The Ethical Slut
Virtual Self-Guided Course: Open Relationship Design
Be open, be honest and be curious is all I ever ask of anyone in relationship – open, closed or otherwise!
Natalie is a co-creator of the Open Relationship Design eCourse and a co-host of Sex the Podcast. If you’d like support in creating an open relationship that increases intimacy and deepens trust go to www.openrelationshipdesign.com.