How To Navigate Emotions And Sex In An Open Relationship


My partner and I have this contract of sorts wherein we can sleep with other people as long as we stay committed to each other emotionally. You could say we’re sexually open while practicing social monogamy. We’ve operated under this verbal agreement for the past five months of our almost two year relationship. And yes – we’re happy, for the most part.

From the outside looking in, most would consider our relationship to be falling apart. We both have other sexual partners that we choose to not readily acknowledge even though inklings of their existence swing before our faces from time to time. My partner can sleep with someone during his lunch break and come home to me with a hickey on his chest, and it wouldn’t be a big deal. Someone might insist this lipstick-mark-on-his-collar type of action might warrant a degree of instability within our relationship – a tortuous act of betrayal we simply cannot overlook.

We would have to disagree.

Since discussing the possibility of becoming monogam-ish (and actually following through with its course of action), our interpersonal communication skills have rapidly improved and our expectations for one another are more actively voiced. If I feel uncomfortable watching an exchange between him and another ultra-meaty, attractive man at our local dive bar, my concerns are validated and legitimized when brought to his attention. We’ve become best friends by talking about our interests and fears, despite coming to terms with the improbability of either of us satisfying every single need the other sexually desires.

Sex can just be sex. Think of it like reading a book. Or going grocery shopping. Sometimes I find myself sorting through diverse hummus selections wondering who around me in ShopRite has the biggest, most magnificent cock. I become distracted and realize I am actually craving Greek yogurt. Even with literature, when you’re so acclimated to reading authors like Zadie Smith on the regular, it’s fun to experiment with less panic-inducing reads like those of Nick Hornby.

Sex, literature, and food shopping should all be freeing indulgences we’re able to mix up. If the person I love and want to be with happens to primarily be submissive, and I by chance want to be restrained tonight, why shouldn’t I be able to move forward, actively seeking out someone who can fulfill my urges? There has to be a medium somewhere.

For the majority of those within my sexual network, it’s been easy separating my emotions from the act of fucking. I observe their reactions to my embrace, take note of their individual kinks, and master what will ultimately get them off. I’ll wipe up the aftermath with a towel, kiss their forehead, and send them along their way to complete the rest of their day’s tasks. But, on certain occasions, the desire to have them stay a couple more hours to lounge in our undies and finish the remaining episodes in Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt season two is difficult to resist.

He sported blue-green eyes, red hair and freckles to match his Irish nationality, and an unforgiving attitude towards those who think they’re above pop music hits. He stayed after we had sex. And came back, again and again. Even when he would leave, I’d think about his future visits and what was next. We would spend hours in bed, discussing topics spanning America’s current political climate to our prized childhood superheroes. I was beginning to catch feelings; even worse, I felt like there was no going back to my partner.

“How can you be emotionally monogamous when horniness is purely an emotion?” My friend questioned once I brought the predicament to him. “It’s impossible to be in an open relationship without actually cheating. You silly queers.”

I was never sure if open relationships were right for me. I always thought my peers who were shoving their radical, polyamorous relationship status down my throat were simply trying to be trendy, and in reality staunchly we’re insecure over their partner’s unknown actions all the time. When cheating rapt our relationship, my partner and I thought it best we become more honest and express our love for each other, but interest to explore our sexualities more.

It seemed obvious something had gone wrong within the game plan. My friend left me questioning whether or not I was now being deceitful to the one person I want to explore the world with, and if monogamy – in any capacity – was ever going to be right for me.

Guilt pounded my psyche. When you’re in a relationship, you are doing what we were built to do, which is love. Needing to be honest and forward with my feelings, I fleeted to my partner. I hadn’t known how to address it – nothing was going to make sense. Yes, love. I love you, but also have a crush on this Sean Cody model lookalike. How could he be okay with a confession like this? Nope! Not happening.

After multiple shots of Evan Williams, it happened. Not too sure how it piled out of my mouth; I only remember there being palpable animosity and interrogations happening within an Avril Lavigne-inspired bar bathroom. But, it ended with my partner demanding I erase his contact information and never see him again. Fair enough.

Love is complicated. Feeling feels will make you want to vom.

Things will go wrong from time to time in a long-term relationship. I’ve learned this slowly.

The desire to want someone to stay is organic. We all find intimacy in the teeniest, most mundane of ways. When I am with someone other than my partner, I incessantly remind myself of this. If the emotional support and social monogamy with my partner were replaceable, I wouldn’t still be here; it’s the context and heart of the relationship.

Everyone is at their best when they are loving someone. We are all wired to do it. Still, the way we love is individualistic and unique; the reward for loving honestly and forwardly is unprecedented. This reality will hit you in the face one day, if it hasn’t already. There’s no real way to escape it. Thought Catalog Logo Mark

About the author

Kenneth Miller

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