The story of who Sam and I are has to start with the story of who he was from the first time I met him: 1.) the man I was born not to breathe without, and 2.) absolutely un-dateable. He’s still both of those things, but luckily he’s also the man I’m going to marry later this summer. He’s the man I waited for and we’re the couple people root for. Not that we need a cheering section—we’re the most stupidly happy people I know. As for our sex life…it’s not dull. In short, thanks to our partnership and more specifically to the decisions we’ve made together about its non-traditional nature, life most definitely does not suck.
But the first date in many ways did. He was handsome, with an urban cowboy groove to his intelligence and a constant, charming smile that made you tingle without ever making you cringe. He was clearly an alpha male, which pleased me, and he was unfailingly authentic as we talked, which surprised me given the men I’d been encountering out there. I’ve always been the type to hope, romantically speaking, but when Sam walked in the room, the instant conviction that this was the man who would change everything felt like it came from a place higher than me. I don’t believe in God, but it felt at the very least like fate, karma, luck, reincarnation, good juju, and being in flow with the universe. It was that clear to me.
And then he told me he was “Open.”
Looking back, I’m not sure what the word meant to me at the time. I believe I pictured the movie The Ice Storm and a scene from Woodstock all at once, and I was definitely no longer pleased. He also, it turned out, had 24-year-old model girlfriend who had been fine with the open part until one day she wasn’t. She flipped the script, as we like to say, and so this horribly sexy Renaissance Every Man of my dreams was not only un-dateable because he did open relationships, he was literally taken and not even allowed to “play.”
Play, he said, as if dating were a game of chess and amazing sex was always first prize.
Yet as the date went on, he took his time explaining his motivation for being open in ways I hadn’t expected. He also defined other phrases to do with “non-traditional” arrangements in ways I’d never had them explained before. He wasn’t a swinger, for example. That conjures up images of tension-filled parties were you and a bunch of other couples decide upon some match (good, random, or otherwise) and proceed to a room where switching and foursomes abound.
Probably off base, but I got all that. Wasn’t for me.
There was also polyamorous, which I’d vaguely heard of but never put much thought into. He described the world of polyamory in more emotion-driven terms and painted a picture that sounded only slightly Mormon but otherwise not bad. Of course we’re capable of romantic connections with more than one person, perhaps going so far as to develop deep, long-term connections with multiple people – and bingo—you avoid so many of the traps of traditional modern day coupling.
Yes, I thought, that makes sense. Also very much not for me.
Looking back, I’m not sure how our first date was not our last except to say that Sam simply talked and talked—soothingly, insightfully, sexily—for cocktail after cocktail until I wished nothing more than to be the 24-year-old model in the open thing with him. To tell you the truth, I could even see how clearly in the wrong she was to have forced monogamy on a man like him; a man who knew himself; who wanted to find the love of his life, but who just didn’t want to sacrifice everything about who he was in order to have that life partner. This silly 24-year-old was sitting on the deal of a lifetime and she didn’t even know it.
One week later, the joke was on me because I was the one with the deal on the table. She had broken up with him, quite explosively, and here he was, asking if I wanted to see him. If he could have seen inside my head, he’d have known I’d been seeing nothing but him for seven days – but that was beside the point. The point was that he was…still un-dateable? Now I wasn’t so sure again. I was sure, however, about the other part—the part about him being the man I was born not to breathe without. So I paused. For five weeks I paused while Sam and I dated—no sex, no kissing—just me and my Thinking Woman’s Thor going to galleries and movies, going to clubs and sex shops, going insane not touching one another while we slowly came to realize there was something really phenomenal there, something beyond my schoolgirl fantasizing and the always-hoping nature of my approach to dating new men. This was something more like learning to hear after you’ve been given a cochlear implant: There’s a rush of overwhelming sensation, both brand new and oddly familiar, and it’s almost too much but you feel that it’s crucial to becoming who you’re supposed to be, so you focus through the overload and try to learn how to calm down into it; to allow yourself to hear by teaching your brain to get out of the way. True love, for me, was like that too.
Five weeks in, I slept with him. About five minutes after that I knew I’d be willing to enter into any adventure this man could ever want. (Don’t worry – his universe was also being rocked, this has never been a one-way worship affair.) And sexually, since we’re on the subject, toys, girls, “open”—whatever would end up being the best for us is what we were going to embark on, as we navigated day-by-day, communicated about everything, and made decisions together that weren’t forced, reactionary, or passive aggressive—and most crucially that didn’t have a hint of self-deceit.
Doing consensual non-monogamy, I think, takes all that and more.
Now, nearly four years later, we’re one fairly awesome couple from my little point of view. And yes, we’re open. What that came to mean to us—how it started, who it was, when it shifted, why it works—perhaps those are all subjects for another blog. Suffice it to say, I’m happy and “Open” is a big part of that. If anything, the way we tackle the challenges, benefits, confusions, and opportunities related to our openness serves as a model for how we deal with everything a long-term couple has to face. From the biggest decision to the smallest gesture, the practice of being open in a sexual relationship can teach you how to trust (yourself and your partner), how to practice authenticity in everything you do, how to be a person of your word, and how to make tough choices easy by never forgetting to prioritize ‘the us.”