A friend recently called me and said I was in a crisis. “He wanted to sleep with other people,” she said. “Does that mean he doesn’t find me sexy anymore?” Now, the first thing you have to know about this friend is that she’s really, really attractive. So this proposal from her equally sexy partner of six years turned out to be an unexpected ambush. What was her first feeling? A threat to her sensuality.
I have been in love for nine years and married for one year. My relationship has been monogamous and has been officially open for three years. As someone who has historically been less hot and someone who has historically had jealousy issues due to insecurities about her appearance, it seemed unlikely that I would end up in an open relationship as easily as I do now. Before we opened, I was jealous – unhealthy, I would say. If my partner checks out on someone on the street and I’m there, I’ll feel a lump in my throat and wonder why I can’t give him all he wants. Then 10 steps later, once the tide of jealousy subsides, I’ll go see someone too.
“Do you want to sleep with other people?” I asked my friend.
“I haven’t really thought about it,” she replied.
For me, this is the first step in understanding how my partner might want to sleep with someone else – because, when I’m being very honest with myself, I do too . Monogamy is a beautiful thing if you can make it work for you, but it often involves annexing each partner’s desires. Of course, there are plenty of people who are perfectly happy with this merger, but I don’t think it’s really possible to really desire just one person forever, with constant enthusiasm. We fool ourselves into thinking that wanting just one person forever is not only possible but necessary for a healthy, committed relationship.
Even though sex in a monogamous relationship is always amazing, wanting to make out with your barista, masturbating to your partner’s best friend’s brother, dreaming of being gay, Just for one night, it’s all human behavior. The difference between monogamy and open sex isn’t that one has a lot of desire and the other doesn’t. It’s about how we deal with that desire. Because an important part of having a successful monogamous relationship is acknowledging that you and your partner have more than just each other’s desires.
In open marriages, this acknowledgment goes a step further and is put into action. But the belief remains much the same. In an open marriage, I have to trust that when my partner goes out to sleep with someone else, it is me that he wants to come home to. When I have sex with another guy who blows the thermometer because it’s too hot, I go back to my partner because that’s what I want. The two things at play here — the life I have and the life I’ve built — are different, rich things. Extending this to polyamory, the idea is similar: every state, every relationship brings something different.