A college education teaches you many things, but the most important morsel of wisdom it imparts on you is the ability to think critically. We all ask questions through the course of our meager existence. We ask why there are three branches of government in the United States. We ask how a tree is born, and what makes it shed its leaves once a year. We ask how babies are made. We ask why a Twinkie never goes bad. Some of the answers to these questions are more palatable than others. Some answers just lead to more questions. Some answers are just plain gross. Curiosity is immeasurably valuable to adulthood because it keeps you from getting bored or complacent.
The place where education fails the human race is that it does not teach us how to not ask questions occasionally. There are some queries that don’t entirely merit our consideration. One of those queries is the grandest question of all. From the beginning of time, humans have asked why do we exist? What purpose does life serve? Is there any grander meaning? That question is answered in a variety of ways. Some people find solace in work. You bludgeon yourself into submission with a variety of uppers and downers so that the menial task appointed to you is more bearable. Other folks latch onto their god, spirit, demon or other higher power. Most are content to derive meaning from sexual relationships of the monogamous variety.
The joy of another human choosing to spend the rest of their lives with you can be very fulfilling. Having a confidant and stabilizing force in the world puts a man or woman at ease when the average day is full of struggle. It’s lovely and rewarding to know that when the course of events takes a dire turn, someone else actually cares enough to help out.
With that comes a whole other set of issues. A mate can actually be a source of strife rather than a comfort. You don’t necessarily realize that when you choose someone, but the chances are better than the chances that a cigarette will give you cancer. The human race is infinite in its variety, and also in its capacity to be self-interested. We all do what we can to imagine that someone else has the capacity to always be relied on for support, but that’s rarely true. This is a dark notion, but even the most altruistic individual has the ability to make decisions that benefit only them. They can be small things, seemingly trivial behaviors, but they are still intrinsically selfish. Your boyfriend leaves the toilet seat up, eh? Seems silly, but he does it because he doesn’t think about how you will navigate this particular predicament. Your girlfriend is in the habit of taking the last slice of pizza? She still likes you a lot, but she likes pizza too.
The open relationship is that thing that happens when both participants in a coupling accept that they have an abiding interest in themselves. It is the ultimate act of self-awareness. The other person knows they are not going to love you forever, and the feeling is mutual. Intellectually, this appears to be the perfect arrangement. You know where you stand, you have carte blanche to explore your options, but you can also call upon your partner for various and sundry moments of assistance. They could be emotional or they could be carnal.
Despite the fairly reasonable nature of the open relationship, they are either not considered socially acceptable or they’re just rare. I’ve never properly attempted one. I haven’t really known anyone who has either. That could be a symptom of the fact that I am irredeemably square. Perhaps I don’t have any friends who are cool enough to just ‘chill’ and embrace life?
The converse of that is that maybe I don’t know anyone with the courage to not demand fealty from an autonomous, sentient lifeform. Relationships give us meaning, purpose and motivation. Monogamy offers so much safety when nothing around you feels safe. How tough must you be to let that go? I wish I could have that type of will. I would love to not need. So much would be easier if I could live casually. I suppose I live my life as though nothing is casual. My answer to the question of “what does life mean?” is life means everything. To me, if we’re doing it right, all things are vital, have worth and merit attention. The whole endeavor is important, because it only happens once. Even open relationships carry a certain amount of weight since they are irretrievable seconds. I don’t engage in open relationships because I don’t want to admit that life is not inherently meaningful.
I want to hold you, kiss you and see you naked from time to time, but I want that to matter. Open relationships seem wonderful. They give people the chance to truly be themselves. The problem is that being yourself is too scary. I don’t look down on those who love without constraints. In fact, I admire them. I want to have what they have. My quandary comes from being so typical, so average, so narcissistic that I must always believe that my time is important. I have to be special. Those of you who can have sex without emotional repercussions have it figured out. The rest of us are just going to have to spend the remainder of our lives trying to answer a question that has no answer.