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From a woman who never thought she’d have an open relationship

Toni van Eeden | Fulcrum Staff

I’ve always had very complicated friendships with guys. There have been the friendships that should’ve been more, the friendships that were held together by an intense but never acted-upon physical attraction, and the friendships that were intimate, deep, and never worth risking over a romantic relationship. Scattered in between, of course, were my boyfriends. While they were all extremely meaningful and interesting, I was always left confused and often hurt by the inevitable crumbling of what often seemed like the deepest relationships.

Then, last summer, I met this guy. If someone had written me a letter listing his credentials, I would’ve said, sounds great, but no thank you. He was, for starters, non-monogamous. He was also my first date with someone I met online, and I had already broken several of the rules I made for myself when I decided to join the website where we met.

The summer was spectacular. Both of us thought we were very clever having convinced such a charming (and cute) person to spend so much time with us as a casual partner. We soon realized, despite our best efforts, that we were very much bonded and a little head over heels. On the day that marked exactly six months since our first date, we sat curled up in my bed and made the first page of rules for our non-monogamous relationship.

First, we agreed we were not looking for more romantic partners. Anyone else outside of the relationship would be “extra curricular.” Friends, friends with benefits, casual partners, and casual dating were all allowed and encouraged but on a recreational level only.

The rest of the rules were about setting up boundaries. For me, the more detail I know, the better, especially when it comes to the physical element of his other relationships. He, on the other hand, feels comfortable knowing everything except the nitty-gritty details of what goes on under the sheets. It may seem weird that we discuss other people, but hearing him talk fondly of other partners reminds me of his capacity to care for others, his  regard for other people’s tastes, interests, and preferences, and mostly his eagerness to pursue a wide range of experiences in life.

As well as establishing guidelines about how much time we would spend with other partners relative to how much time we would spend with each other, we also talked about temporary periods of closing off—times when we would only date each other, when we need a break from other people, when we have an issue to deal with, or when one or both of us has a lot on our plate and needs more one-on-one support.

Of course, we also have established safe-sex practices, including a standing date to get tested every three months at one of Ottawa’s fine sexual health centres. It’s not our favourite activity involving a nurse’s outfit, but it’s a necessary one.

Lastly, we made the veto rule. In a lot of the books and articles I’ve read since then, this is one issue that every couple feels differently about. Sometimes, for no reason at all, an extra curricular partner will spark an insecurity or jealousy. Most of the time, the solution is just saying out loud what it is that’s making you uncomfortable. But sometimes, no matter how much you try, you cannot explain to your partner why this person bothers you. Hence the veto rule. We are first and foremost invested in making it work with each other; if someone else interferes with that, they’re bad for the relationship.

Just like monogamy, non-monogamy is a framework with its own set of rewards and challenges. Individuals engaged in both types of relationships encounter jealousy, possessiveness, insecurity, and the fear of losing a partner to someone else. The key, in both, is being honest with yourself about your needs and limitations. I do not expect him to meet all of my needs and yet somehow he does. He makes me feel satisfied and confident enough to admit that I absolutely love being desired by others. Every day I get to admit to myself, and to my favourite person, that I am a fiercely independent, easily bored, stimulated by change, yearning for new connections, sometimes serious, sometimes slutty, 20-something-year-old woman.

Two years ago when I left a five-year monogamous relationship, a perfect apartment, and a well-paying job to go backpacking in South Africa, I never thought my biggest adventure would be waiting for me when I returned to Ottawa. Non-monogamy has been the key that fit the door I never let myself open. It allowed me to realize I am the type of person who needs to feel like I am constantly evolving, growing, and changing. The boundaries in my relationship have helped me to not only navigate my complex friendships, but also to understand what the true meaning of a partner is: someone to share the experience of living with.