Open Relationships + Long Distance: A How To
Jeremy: What did you think about open relationships before you were in one and why you chose to be in an open relationship with me?
Maddy: When I was younger, I didn’t really see the point of open relationships. I also had zero experience with dating and basically thought that in every relationship your partner becomes your sun, moon, stars, and conjoined twin. Upon starting college in a place full of beautiful young people with nothing to do for entertainment except each other, I changed my mind. I quickly adopted the idea that being in an open relationship was the hallmark of a liberated human: a mystical being who had the support of a significant other, slept with whomever they pleased, and had their life together one hundred percent of the time. When I actually fell in love for the first time, I realized that it was a lot more complicated than I had anticipated. For the first time ever, I felt like I wasn’t solely an individual. Instead, I was part of a team that worked together and helped each other grow. It took me a long time to get used to that shift, but when I finally struck the balance between being an independent person who needs space and having a partner who helps me improve myself, it was one of the best things ever.
When we made the decision to break up when school ended, we were trying to rationalize would the future would be like and minimize any future struggle. We were living in different places for the summer with completely opposite work schedules, and then I was going to be in Spain for the Fall. We wouldn’t get to be together again until January, only a few months before your graduation, and how could we know what that would feel like. We decided it was better to cut our losses and break everything off until then so that no one would get hurt. The problem with emotions is that they aren’t rational, and we were both fucking miserable. It feels horrible to try to forcefully demote a physically and emotionally intimate partner into something less than that, and it just wasn’t working. I decided to be in an open relationship with you because you’re the person I trust the most and someone who I think is worth the struggle. Finding someone who totallygets you, both mentally and physically, isn’t common, and it’s something worth investing some effort into.
You were initially apprehensive to the idea of an open relationship. What were your apprehensions, and why did you change your mind?
J: I remember talking in the radio booth at WRMC last spring about what we were going to do in the summer. As you said, the decision to break up seemed so rational and clean. The conversation was melancholy and as we both teared up I felt the roots of my certainty in that decision start to unravel. It wasn’t until I got to New York that I realized how silly that decision was. It seems so ridiculous now to think ahead to ending our emotionally fulfilling and dependent relationship while cultivating our life together in the pursuing months.
My apprehension at the time stemmed from an inability to sustain open relationships in the past. After being apart for extended periods of time from other partners and meeting new people I started to fall out of love. Constantly doubting my feelings and not being able to come up with justifications was heartbreaking and exhausting and I always waited to long to express how I was feeling with my primary partner. That lead to disappointment, distrust and ultimately love lost. I think my headspace was fatalistic and self defeating in that I looked at every experience with a new person as a source of guilt instead of a possibility for fulfillment in the absence of my primary partner. The “don’t ask, don’t tell” model of those relationships always led to a breakdown of communication and a feeling of sneaking around that made me feel rotten.
What changed my mind really was your open mindedness, honesty with your level of comfort, and generosity in letting me feel my way through this new terrain in our relationship. I think hitting boundaries of sharing and triggering intense feelings of jealousy is somewhat inevitable, but never fun, in an open relationship. When I first hooked up with someone this summer I was so excited to share with you and in my excitement I overshared. Your willingness to look at that conflict as a source for growth in tracing the boundaries of the relationship, instead of as an irreparable crack, made me feel like there is no obstacle or conflict that we couldn’t get past if we communicated and made room for error.
Those initial boundaries have continued to shift and as they do your openness and your constant support of my happiness and wellbeing has only strengthened my resolve that transitioning into this genre of relationship was for the best. Exploring our sexual desires apart from each other this summer, while committing to visiting NYC and Newburyport, our respective summer homes, has only deepened our relationship and added new facets and avenues to our love.
We’ve talked a bit about how there is an initial feeling of jealousy that rises up when we share a story about hooking up with someone else. How do you work through that feeling, and more broadly, how has our relationship changed how you think about sex and monogamy?
M: The initial hit of jealousy is definitely the worst part of an open relationship, but it has been diminishing in intensity with time. At first, it felt incredibly disorienting to hear about your partner being intimate with someone else. However, as time passed, I began to realize how much better it is to discuss these types of experiences with your best friend rather than to try to hide them. Relationships are built on honesty and intimacy, and in my opinion the more you that you hide from your partner, the sooner the relationship will deteriorate. It never stops being hard to hear these stories because I miss you and wish I could be there with you, but it is invaluable to me that we can share like this, and with increasing frequency, I’m finding it truly fun to hear about your adventures. Once the initial knee jerk reactions settle down, it can actually be pretty hot to be honest. In this same vein, I’ve realized that monogamy is comfortable for many people because it feels safe, but it’s not the most fulfilling option for everyone.
What advice would you give someone considering opening up their relationship for the first time?
J: Hmm I would definitely say start by discussing your desires openly with your partner. If you have a crush on someone in your community, tell your partner in a way that still validates and supports them. Even if you don’t plan on acting on it right then, building that base of openness in discussing desire will help make that jump to being open and seeing other people more comfortable. I’d also say that things will hurt and there will be speed bumps along the way. Trying to see eye to eye with your partner on every occasion is difficult but sometimes sitting in that discomfort can tell you a lot about yourself and the ways in which you may not be supporting your partner to the fullest. Acknowledging that you’re both sexual people with desires that exceed the current status of your relationship doesn’t mean that you need to break up. Changing the framing and communicating throughout can lead you in exciting directions that monogamous relationships never will.