I submit a post to the Awesome Women Of Twitter. The editor likes what my blog The Righteous Harlot is about but feel it needs some introduction for their readers. It’d be confusing for people, she rightly points out. Can you write something more general about open relationships? Can you write something more general about swinging?
I spend the next several days thinking: ‘But I’m not a swinger.’ Then I think: ‘Ok, well, maybe I am at times. Maybe some of what I do (to an outsider) would count as swinging while other bits (the majority of bits probably) fall into the category of being in an open or non-monogamous relationship. Why does it have to be one or the other?’
Given that I am a huge curmudgeon with a raft of personal issues and a terrible propensity for jealousy, I am an unlikely proponent of a non-monogamous lifestyle. If you want to read about open relationships and how to have them, I really recommend Tristan Taormino and there are many other sources of information much more considered, useful and less partial than my blog. I started it in order to write about my experiences and I have only ever tried to present what it’s like from my own perspective. Even now, I’m not certain that I can do an open relationship successfully. Writing about it is – frankly – scary because I could still ‘fail’. Mostly I detest having to try to explain myself just so that people can tell me that I’m wrong and I told you so.
Most of my relationships have been monogamous. The first person to bring up the idea of an open relationship was my ex. It was a bad time – actually it was an end time but we hadn’t faced up to that yet. Our sex life had pretty much disappeared. She said: ‘This is an awful situation for me. I love you but I want to have an open relationship so that I can go and have sex with other people and feel desirable and happy.’ Naturally I dismissed the idea out of hand. Luckily for her we split up soon after, which was what we should have done all along. Having an open relationship will not fix a wrong relationship. The next person to use those words on me was Virgil. It was about two years later and a very different situation.
Virgil is the love of my life. I cannot imagine not wanting to be with him. We met three and a half years ago through an online dating site of the kind where men post blurry cock shots rather than telling you about their hobbies and the kind of gal they’d like to meet. Falling in love with Virgil was utterly unexpected and glorious. The experience changed my life.
It happened during a period of sexual exploration made possible by the internet, my single status and an ability to walk away from sexual misadventures with little more than a backward glance and a mental note to do better next time. Our connection was not exclusive (I was infatuated with a rather manipulative and shallow dominant at the time) but after several months of increasingly heady encounters we had the relationship conversation.
We were standing on a footbridge over the river. I felt high on love and excitement. ‘What do you want?’ asked Virgil, ‘Do you want to be in a relationship with me?’ He knew full well. I grinned at him: ‘But we already have a relationship.’ We kissed and agreed that we did. Then he said, ‘What kind of relationship?’ and I, reader, having no real understanding of what this meant but knowing that it would please him, said: ‘An open relationship.’
And so it began. Virgil and I have a common pool of slutty acquaintances. Although we are not what you would call swingers, we are known to go to and to host sex parties. That’s the more swinger-ish side of it. However, if you asked most of the people in our circle whether they were swingers they would most likely be offended.* We have shared people in threesomes and also in foursomes. Last year (and this is the challenging bit without a doubt) we went further and opened up our relationship to having what I call solo adventures.
This was not a smooth progression. We actually nearly split up. Monogamy supports the kind of laziness and mutual over-dependence that has ruined many a good relationship. Unknowing, we had let our relationship drift: beneath a thin layer of business as usual we were both resentful. At some point we had stopped being honest with each other. So we had counselling together. Then I had therapy on my own. Virgil and I talked for hours, days and weeks. We’re still talking. Opening up has required an enormous investment of time and energy in our relationship but in the process we have reconnected and grown. We know each other better and feel more committed to each other – even if we end up splitting up, which we may still do.
I invite you to read about my experiences on my blog, The Righteous Harlot. I hope it is of use to you if you are considering breaking out of the monogamy rut. I heartily recommend that everyone seriously considers doing this at least once in their life. It has been a slow, painful, stop-start process but I’m still alive and better for it.
I give to you my most important learnings so far:
Most of us are totally enculturated (that’s ‘brainwashed’ in plain English) into the idea that monogamy is the one true way to conduct relationships. We receive constant social messages that reinforce this idea. (No, I don’t mean texts and tweets.)
It is commonly assumed that anything less than violent possessiveness and territoriality towards our partner bespeaks a lack of love and/or constitutes a betrayal. Why is this? We don’t own people and although we might want to we can’t control how they feel and behave.
Does anyone actually believe that one person can satisfy all of our sexual needs forever and ever? Nobody thinks it’s weird to have more than one friend. What’s so strange or awful about having a sexual relationship with more than one person? [Virgil interjects: ‘What’s so strange about having a relationship with more than one person?’ ‘Get lost, Virgil,’ I snap. ‘We’ve had this conversation. This is my opinion, not yours. Don’t goad me.’ I suppress the urge to shout at him, the little stoat.]
If you’re going to be happy in an open relationship you have to be open to more than just your partner having sex [or relationships] with other people. You have to be open to life and to allowing lots of things to be fluid and less certain. This is probably the hardest bit, to be honest.
You also have to sort your shit out and work out what you actually want from your relationships rather than what society has taught you is your right to expect.
Don’t give a shit about other people and what they might think. A lot of people will have a pretty simplistic knee-jerk reaction to the idea. It’s your life. Make your own choices.
When you start to discuss an open relationship, don’t assume that you’re on the same page – don’t assume you’re even in the same ballpark. You will only find this out if you talk honestly about what you want. Be prepared to differ.
Finally (and this idea might take some getting used to but believe me it is KEY) having an open relationship is something that you do together.
That is all.
* Swinger is a very loaded term and I’ll probably get in trouble for oversimplifying, but swingers tend to be less sexually inhibited and more socially conservative. If you like your pussy shaven and a size ten; if gay means girl-on-girl but no fellas; if you prefer cocktail dresses and tans and your conversational gambits tend to be about soft-swap versus hard-swap or which provincial town you have travelled from tonight, you get the picture. There are books on the subject, I’m sure.
You can find The Righteous Harlot’s blog here.