DIY in Relationships
Are you monogamous? Poly? Open? Weighing your options? Going with the flow?
The way to structure one’s relationship has become a choice, hasn’t it?
Not too long ago, Monogamy was the assumed structure of relationships. It is still the default structure, meaning most people in committed relationships are monogamous (or at least claim to be,) but now there is more awareness about the existence of open relationships and responsible non-monogamy. Responsible non-monogamy, or ethical non-monogamy for those who don’t know is where romantic partners openly practice non-monogamy (meaning sex and intimacy with other people) and they do it with honesty and integrity and within the best interest of everyone involved. And while it can be difficult to practice this, since people are complex, sex is complex, and relationships are complex, it can be done. I know many people who are successful at it, and those that are successful have to work VERY hard in order to maintain that success, so to them I say Rock the Fuck On.
That’s not to say that monogamy doesn’t present its own set of challenges. Relationships in general are challenging. But we negotiate them anyway because it’s our biological imperative.
Plus, they make us feel good.
I know a little bit about non-monogamy and open relationships. I am a polyamory consultant, I consult with people in open relationships about how to navigate them ethically and responsibly. I wrote a memoir called “Open all the way” about the open relationship I had with my now ex-husband. And for 5 years I wrote about the subject extensively, so much so that I was once referred to as the “most prolific writer on the subject of open relationships on the internet today” which sounds quite nice but probably just means that sometimes I don’t know when to shut up.
But despite my history of non-monogamy, these days I am practicing monogamy.
When I tell people I am doing monogamy they always go … WHAT? You?
I get that probably most people don’t feel compelled to emphasize the fact that they are monogamous — “Hi, this is my boyfriend and we only have sex with each other”… but that’s just because, as I said, monogamy is the default structure of relationships. It’s pretty much assumed that couples that are together are monogamous. But when you have done non-monogamy for a long time, and have been quite vocal about it like I have, then the expectation gets re-set. And so it was assumed that I would continue to have open relationships. Assumed by friends, family, co-workers… and even to an extent, it was assumed by me.
This is the story of how I challenged that assumption…
I peered at him across the table. Our waiter had brought us an offering of crostini with roasted tomatoes. He hated tomatoes, I had just learned, but he sampled it anyway, careful to contain his disdain for the texture, the taste. He looked so damned cute over there, but he felt too far from me; the table was a sea, it seemed. A long, vast expanse where too much could get lost between us, could become swallowed by waves of misunderstanding.
With my hands in my lap, fingers folded over knuckles for assurance, I pleaded with him, “Please, please don‘t assume that just because of my history with open relationships that an open relationship is something I need. Or want. I would actually do monogamy for the right person.”
I surprised myself with this announcement. I hadn’t pre-meditated this proclamation, wasn’t exactly sure where it came from; but I was certain that, regardless of its genesis, it was as true as anything I’d ever believed.
Before this date, we’d had a pre-date (you know the pre-date, the let’s meet for coffee and check each other out date?) On this pre-date we had determined that we were steadfastly in sync in important areas, like religion and politics, but now here on our date-date we just had found a place of divergence. In the realm of relationships, he is traditional. And, traditionally… I am not so traditional.
And so I felt like I was asking a lot when I pleaded with him not to make assumptions about me based upon my previous relationship history. He had not Googled me (in fact, he never has.) He didn’t know much at all about what I do at BedPost Confessions. All he knew up to that point was what I had just told him –- which was that I had an open marriage and wrote a book about it.
Perceptions, such as the one that I was worried he was crafting about me upon hearing this information, are difficult to break free from. And I have, quite admittedly, painted a pretty specific (and sometimes salacious) picture of myself by being so outspoken about my relationships on the Interwebs. And because I wrote about open relationships I understood that I was, by default, perceived as an open relationship advocate. But I am actually not an advocate for open relationships. I am an advocate for honesty, always. And more specifically, I am an advocate for designing the relationship of your choosing –- be it monogamous or non-monogamous -– I advocate for people creating the relationship that is right for them and their partner (or partners) and whatever that looks like, irrespective of what anyone else expects it to look like.
So there I sat, at a table with this adorable man I had met on OK Cupid (because contrary to what seems to be another perception, I don’t get asked out very often)… and I was asking him to not make assumptions about me based upon my either my past relationship history or my present work (because I tell ya, I have said to people “I co-produce a show called BedPost Confessions where we tell sex stories on stage” and they have run away from me, literally run away from me like I had a Billy Ray Cryus mullet.)
Yes, I asked this man to instead craft an opinion about Sadie the person, regardless of all the sex-related stuff, but without blocking it out completely because talking frankly about sex and relationships is a part of who I am after all.
So, basically, I said, “Here, juggle all of this!”
And it is difficult to do that, isn’t it? Juggle the different pieces of who people are? When we begin to see someone we see all that they have allowed us access to. Shit like their job, their interactions with their children if they have them, their previous relationships and how they were impacted by them, we see their social skills, their bathing habits, how their parents treated them, the way they dress, what their ideals are… the faces they make when they come if we’re lucky… and after we have viewed them for a while we discover whether or not they match us to enough of a degree that they will fit into our lives.
And ultimately it is difficult to find someone that fits snugly next to us in that way. Someone who can meet our rough edges with corresponding ones, whose intentions can’t help but smooth the contours of who we are; where we connect so viscerally, it is as if they were always there.
I was pretty damned sure that the pieces of who I was would be a difficult fit for just about anyone.
But there I sat, hopeful and pleading, as I threw my pieces out on the table between us… along with a piece I would be willing to construct -– monogamy for the right person.
And the sweet, sweet man sitting across from me agreed not to make assumptions. And I imagine that took a little bit of work.
But I had some work of my own to do. I had to re-evaluate my own perceptions of monogamy, which had been adjusted to accommodate my own choice to be non-monogamous. I had lived in an open marriage. But I wrote about it in order for others to understand the concept… in the hopes that one day it will be a relationship structure that is accepted instead of condemned, or even better, celebrated as a choice arrived at by consenting people.
Condemning people for their relationship choices is so passé.
But doing non-monogamy and writing about it meant that I had to kinda rebuff the concept of monogamy as a possibility for myself.
A quick aside here: my ex and I had lots of reasons for choosing to have an open marriage -– too many to go into in this context — but I will say that we designed our relationship together, the way we wanted it to be, and I take fierce pride in that. And because we did it our way, committed to its success while understanding the risks and defining our own expectations of the outcome, we bonded in ways that would not have been possible had we not taken that particular journey together. And I feel very strongly that creating our very own custom-designed relationship template served to unite us so that when it came time, we could part ways as friends. Which is what we are today.
But back to my re-calibrating my attitude about monogamy. I had previously viewed monogamy as limiting. But in reconciling it (or perhaps rationalizing it to support a new choice) I saw that open relationships/responsible non-monogamy can be limiting as well, since people who are willing to engage in open relationships are a much smaller segment of the population and are often difficult to find because they are closeted (and that’s due in large part to the lack of awareness and understanding about them, and thus subsequent judgment). And, sorry to all the poly folks out there because I know you are all spectacularly wonderful at poly, but the people who do non-monogamy really well are an even smaller segment of the sample who practice it –- although this will likely change as more people open up and learn to do it ethically. Also, open relationship drama can be HIGH drama, lemme tell ya.
Yeah, you know.
And then I had to think about what monogamy is actually about.
Is monogamy about sex? Is it about commitment, about respect, about upholding a social obligation, creating emotional safety, implementing boundaries? Is it simply about making a promise not to fuck other people?
I think it is probably some or all of these depending on the couple… but ultimately it should be a choice, an honest choice -– not a default choice -– that feels right for both of the people involved.
And for me? If I am gonna do monogamy for the right person… the sex has gotta be really good with the potential for it to be even really gooder. Because while sex might not be the entire component of monogamy, it is a BIG piece of it.
And if I am being truthful, there at the table that night, a seascape of lonely between us, I had an inkling that this man who I had yet to even see naked might be the right person, the one for whom I’d do monogamy, which I know now is why I announced it in the first place… but I wasn’t quite ready to fully indulge that notion. It was a first date-date after all and I was busy pleading.
Even if I had known that night that he was the right person, what I could NOT have intuited was how open-minded this traditional man would be about us designing a relationship of our choosing, together, the way that works for both of us, even if it doesn’t follow the traditional long-term relationship trajectory of date, fall in love, move in, get married. That night I could not foresee how great a listener he would be, or discern the sincerity and thoughtfulness he would willingly, excitedly extend toward the people he cares about. That night I didn’t know he’d want to see Sadie the woman who sometimes feels like a little girl instead of Sadie the sex lady who stands up on stage and says cock and pussy and throws coy looks at the audience for effect.
That night I had yet to discover that navigating our many differences and divergent viewpoints would be easy peasy lemon squeezy compared to every single one of the relationships of my past.
Yep, maturity, kindness, reciprocity and the ability to not take shit personally — I would later discover –- makes being in a relationship exactly what it I think it should be: fulfilling and fun. And it turns out that each of these beautiful, captivating characteristics along with my own aching, abiding intuition, is what determined that the right person had indeed, been sitting in front of me that night.
And that is when it stopped being about “me doing monogamy” and became instead a choice that we arrived at together; a place where we can both feel safe, comfortable, and stabilized inside of it.
The table between us that night might have charted my jagged relationship journey. And looking back it was a critical point, a juncture, where a decision to ride the same old wave I’d been riding just might throw me off course. It was time for me push up and over my own attitudes and limitations. And so I did. And charting a brand new passage with this man feels exactly right… right now.
And ya know, it is truly comforting to know that it’s only the two of us at the helm.
And ever since that night, whenever we go out, we sit right next to each other at the table rather than across from each other so that there is nothing between us to block our way. And so that my hand can drift up slowly, from the small of his back and up over his shoulder to find the soft place on the back of his neck, while his hand finds the place on my leg just above my knee, and together we grasp each other lightly yet securely … for safety, for comfort, and stability.
And we hold on.