Thursday, May 29, 2008

On Open Relationships

To start, I'm in an open relationship. If you're in the intimate cadre of my 566 closest friends, you can see this on my Facebook profile. While most people tend not to bring up the details uncovered by their 3am Facebook-creeping adventures, those few who have brought up my less-than-traditional set-up have been mostly been guys, and the question often came with a twinge of envy.

The mythical "Open Relationship" seems, to most men my age, to combine the best of all worlds: the opportunity for intimacy with someone special, the opportunity to seek sexual gratification from other sources, and the opportunity to decide for yourself how best to strike that balance.

Let me tell you: it's not all it's cracked up to be.

And no, it's not because of jealousy. While we keep the details to ourselves, my girlfriend and I hide nothing from one another. She is, completely and unequivocally, my best friend. Sophie and I were friends long before we became involved, and I began the relationship on the sole condition that it could not, under any circumstances, come at the expense of our friendship.

If jealousy were to become an issue, I should expect it to be more from her side. While our relationship is explicitly open, Sophie does not sleep around. The same is not true for me; and while this is all kosher with Sophie, every time I have sex with another woman, it still feels like cheating.

It's not like I have any moral qualms about sex. As long as it's safe, and nobody is taken advantage of, I think it's a beautiful thing. There's a broad spectrum between the gratuitous fuck and the world-changing feeling of making love. If you're just counting sex, I've had my share. My fraternity's chapter saw fit to vote me the Most Promiscuous Brother of '07/'08, mostly owing to one high-profile (within fraternity circles, that is) threesome last February. I've slept with a few girls, yes.

I've only ever made love to one.

It's a term that sounds so trite until you experience it yourself. The feeling of caring more than about your own sexual pleasure, or even someone else's, but instead about letting down all of your defenses and giving yourself completely to another person. And when it's done, holding each other close and telling all of your secrets without saying a word. My MO with girls has always been "nice guys don't get laid." Sophie is the only person with whom I've ever let myself just be... myself.

I've seen her three times.

Enter the "distance factor," stage left. She lives in Alabama. Goes to school in Boston. After meeting in Toronto over four years ago, we kept in touch over MSN and near-daily phone conversations. The friendship began to take on more intimate overtones a year or two ago, and every once in a while, we would make plans to visit one another, only to see those plans fall through. We would always put the romantic aspect of our friendship on hold whenever one of us was in a relationship with someone back home.

But she was privy to the triumphs and anxieties, the trials and tribulations of every romantic involvement I ever had. We saw one another through more then our fair share of respective first-date jitters, and break-up train wrecks. But there came a point last February when it dawned on me who it was that I wanted to be with.

When reading week started (reading week is the Canadian version of March Break, only - you know - in February), I packed up my bags and set off with my best friend on the long overnight drive to Boston.

Before making the trip, I had ended a no-strings-attached thing I had with a friend I'd been having sex with back home, just in case things got serious with Sophie.

I was only there for one night, but it was easily the best night of my life. She seemed to want - for some unbelievable reason - for her first time to be with me. That may not count for much to some people, but that was a lot of pressure for me. I mean, I'd been the first for a girl before, but never with someone I really, truly cared about. And yet, it was a first for me too. I made love for the first time, and got hooked.

The next month, she came up to Ottawa for a week for her March break. It stands out as probably the best week I ever had. I skipped all of my classes - studious guy that I am - and practically barricaded myself in the room with her. We only had the week together, and we were going to make the most of it. My roommate hated me.

When the week was over, it was unclear when we would see each other again. I don't know how we came to it, but we made the decision that an open relationship was best for us, because we had so little opportunity to be together.

Yet sex had made its inevitable impact on us. Where once we would tell each other everything, I found myself opening up to her less. Despite the open status of our relationship, every time I slept with another woman, it felt, on an intuitive level, like a betrayal not only of her, but of myself.

So I began to spare her the details. Where once I would tell her everything that was going on in my life, now it felt wierd. How could I tell her what another woman was doing with me, while the distance that separated us kept her from doing the same?

Fast forward to two weeks ago.

I had sex with Rachel. She is a close friend of mine, and goes to the same university as me. It wasn't quite planned: it just sort of happened. She's spending the summer in Toronto, and I was there for the weekend. We met up for drinks, and one thing led to another, which led to my place. And now things are a mess.

Because even though it wasn't the same as what I have with Sophie, it was, inexorably, more than just a fuck. And striking that balance between intimacy and sex in my relationship with Sophie became a lot more complicated. Even though I'm not in love with Rachel, the sex was intimate. Having "just sex" with someone hadn't really caused any problems with respect to the open relationship. But what do I do when it's not just sex?

Rachel is coming up to Ottawa for the weekend to see me. She knows about my relationship with Sophie, and she surely understands that nothing serious will happen between the two of us. But I'm worried about whether or not I can keep this from getting unmanageably wierd. Rachel's my friend, and I don't want her to feel rejected. But I love Sophie, and need to find a way to make sure not to become romantically intimate with someone else.

That would be something that she could not forgive.

For all you guys who wish you were in my shoes, and love the idea of being able to fuck whoever you want while still being in a relationship, let me pitch in my two cents: be careful what you wish for. It might just come true.

1 comment:

  1. "But I love Sophie, and need to find a way to make sure not to become romantically intimate with someone else."

    I consider myself polyamorous as well as polygamous. I'm not sure how that will play out if I ever want one main relationship. For me, I love who I love. And sometimes that love is expressed through sex. Sometimes it isn't. It is what it is. Love and relationship is not so easily put into a box.