Over the last seven years I’ve developed what I call <insert my real name here>-isms – long thought over, sometimes painfully learned, life lessons distilled into a mantra I consider and try to live by as I move through life. Let relationships be where they are was partly born out of my conclusion that monogamy was not for me – maybe for now, maybe forever.
I had cheated. I had been cheated on. What if there was a different way? A more honest way. A way where there was no reason to hide or lie. A way where I could be myself.
I found ENM (ethical non-monogamy) to be the answer – for me.
If practiced properly, and well ethically, you would be honest with your primary partner (or partners – whether primary, secondary, tertiary, or beyond) about your other intimate relationships, about your emotional, intellectual, sexual and physical desires and needs. There would be no reason to lie or cheat because your partner(s) understood you and even supported you in your other relationships – in some cases also getting excited emotionally and sexually about those other partners, or even still, meeting your other partners and developing their own friendships and relationships with them – whatever that may look like.
I have not been monogamous since 2015 when I separated from PhD.
Becoming non-monogamous, in practice, I have found, is not as easy as I describe above. You cannot flip a switch from monogamy to non-monogamy and everything is unicorns and rainbows. It definitely takes work, and communication – a lot of open, honest, sometimes painful, hard to talk about, stammering to find the words and then actually say them hard ass work. But so very worth it in my experience.
Nerdie, my now husband of 2+ years (together for 6), is my first non-monogamous relationship and we continue to do the work – although it isn’t as hard ass as in the beginning.
The other end of all that work in the beginning (and maintenance work continues) has been that I am myself for the first time ever. I am loved, supported and I won’t say ‘allowed’ to explore myself by dating outside our marriage, but rather in a safe space with Nerdie where, with time, trust, communication and a few agreed-upon boundaries, we can now safely explore ourselves, wherever that exploration may take us as individuals, and feel good about it. (NB: Please do NOT get me going on men who say – “Wow, it’s so cool that your husband lets you do this!” Deuces and fuck all the way off to that!)
To me, ENM is an approach to sexual and intimate relationships with partners outside my marriage. But these partners and relationships are not always about sex. In fact, for me, they can’t be just about sex. I’m too old to fuck and run, and I was never good at it when I was younger besides. Plus there is a lot more to do sexually than inserting a penis, or penis-shaped object, into a vagina.
I want something connected, intellectually stimulating, adventurous, silly – and sexy. I also want to care about my partners.
But instead of just seeking out these relationships on a dating app, what if I turned all my relationships from monotone to grey? Not black or white – you are fucking or you aren’t – but grey – letting the relationship be where it is. Letting it evolve organically without categorizing and stuffing it in a box.
Here are two examples in my life.
My best friend that is a girl (not girlfriend) I met on OkCupid. Our first meeting was a date. She’s super cute, funny and irreverent (like me). She loves to drink and eat and laugh. She’s got beautiful big natural tits that I love to grab. She’s emotionally intelligent in a way that I am not. She’s spiritual. She challenges my way of thinking. I love her smile and that she tells me she loves me.
We didn’t go out on a second date, but rather became very close friends – with sexual tension.
Five of us went to Cabo for her 40th. After a long day of day-drinking, we got sappy while sitting on stools at the swim up bar, and started crying at how much we loved each other, how amazing it was to have our friendship. Shortly there after, I’m guessing, we were standing in the pool discussing whether we should make out. Of course, an absolutely natural flow to the day.
“But maybe it’ll mess up our five year friendship.”
No discussion that we had just cried, been drinking all day, and, god forbid, that we were in a public pool in the daylight!
Nope, we just went for it. Add she’s a very good kisser to that list above.
After that, nothing weird happened. Our friendship didn’t implode or explode. The next time I saw her she asked when we were going to make out again.
Let relationships be where they are. That’s where that one is.
My best friend that is a guy (not boyfriend) I met in the wine industry. A friend of a friend of a friend. The valley is small. I knew he found me attractive the first time we met. He’s smart, generous, funny and irreverent (may be a pattern here). He loves to drink and eat and laugh (yup, there’s a pattern). He’s well-dressed. I love his smile and his laugh, that he says fuck a lot and that it is a zillion percent judgement-free zone while drunk.
He introduced me to the owners of the winery I now work for, and then taught me a shit ton about the industry. I will forever be grateful to him.
Our MO now is 3-4 hours of heavy drinking, usually 3-4 bottles, sometimes more, gossiping about people in the industry, listening to music, sometimes he’ll grill up a snack. If his son isn’t home, we invariably end with a make-out sesh – on more than one occasion before he’s heading off to an evening date.
Let relationships be where they are. That’s where that one is.
Earlier this week I was contemplating what I was going to write about for this Sunday’s post. I have a list of past lovers I may write about scribbled down on a piece of lined paper, listed chronologically since 2015. Many I’ve already written about. I folded it in half and taped it to the wall in my office. I have a second list of posts most likely destined for the LIFE category kept as a note on my phone.
While thinking about a proposed topic, I was on a plane so no access to the written one taped to the wall. I opened the note in my phone and read through the list. Of all the topics I read through this one resonated. Let relationships be where they are.
As I walked through the terminal on the way to baggage claim, I had a fucking duh, look at palm and slap one’s self in the forehead moment.
I recently met REO – the Recently Enlightened-Emotional One. When he walked up to the table for our first date over lunch, I didn’t feel much about it – not excited, not immediately impressed.
We ended up talking for over three hours.
He’s extremely thoughtful, intelligent, and his thinking challenges mine. He’s on an emotional, sexual and intellectual journey of self-exploration. He’s generous, expressive and selfless – sharing everything he has in life, or had, even when he didn’t seem to have much, with the people he cares for. I love his smile, his insatiable curiosity, his height, and his white hair. We can easily talk for three hours. Left without time constraints, I feel like this could easily be three days or more.
He had a late-night FT recently. After about an hour, I was listening to him tell me that he doesn’t think one of the women he has been seeing, that he had hoped would be someone long-term, is going to work out.
I started crying.
I had already started feeling scared about my new relationship with REO – really just another way of saying I am starting to feel vulnerable because I care about him. It’s not a place I want to be right now after two painful break-ups this year.
He had told me he wanted me to be someone long-term. Would he one day decide I wasn’t going to work out?
It was 2AM and I was drunk and exhausted and also crying so we said good night. The next morning I wrote him.
“I had fun talking to you last night, as usual I feel like I could talk to you for days…it was super nice to see your face…I just kept thinking how cute/handsome/attractive you are to me, in so many ways.
That’s why I got upset at the end. You scare the fuck out of me. I’ve put my heart in to several people who walk talk and act like you – genuine caring really into me fun an intellectual equal – everything I want. But then I get fucked and not in a good way – get my heart stomped on for one reason or another.
Tbh I want to love you…eventually with time, but I can easily see it happening. I want all the LT things you describe. But again scary as fuck so…I guess I’m just scared to do it. Not rocket surgery…but that’s why I’m keeping you at arms length.”
Walking through the airport terminal that was my fucking duh moment. Let this relationship be where it is.
That doesn’t mean necessarily that I jump in with both feet, but I also need not keep him at arm’s length or put up unnecessary walls. Create the space for us to let our relationship happen organically. I have been preventing that out of fear even though I’ve done this before. I have two best friends because I lived true to let relationships be where they are.
A wide grin came over my face and I audibly laughed while walking my bags to the car. I felt immediately relieved and lighter that the answer was right there in front of me, and it was familiar.
Not that it’s a flip a switch scenario. However, I am now confident that that space will be created and that we will both feel safe in it. First, I have work to do to let it melt away – all the baggage and boundaries I’m carrying into the space we share. Sometimes it doesn’t come together until it breaks.