Like many of you, I grew up in a nuclear family. Two parents and their dependent children, regarded as a basic social unit by society. This has been the ideal model, in western culture at least, for as long as most people can remember.
As far as I know this model worked for my parents. They have been married for over 40 years, have not lived apart at any time during that period, and to my knowledge have not had romantic relationships with any other people since they got together. They are the ideal that our society tells us to strive for.
So many things in life have told me that I should want this, my parents and their example being the first. It was reinforced through my youth, seeing other young kids playing house, listening to high school friends dream about their wedding day, and watching fellow college students frantically try to find ‘the one’. As an adult it’s been hammered into me, watching one by one as people I knew paired off, getting those dreaded ‘when will you find someone’ questions at family events, and seeing the pitying looks from people any time I went to an event without a partner. It is expected that we will all pair off, and that we will do everything in our power to get to that as early as possible.
I was never the girl that planned her wedding. It just didn’t matter to me. Over the years I’ve tried several time to have successful monogamous relationships, sometimes to the point of completely repressing who I am just to make it work. It’s what I was told I should want, and I tried my hardest to have it. Then when I couldn’t make it work I stopped trying altogether, stopped trying to find anyone. I didn’t meet people, didn’t date, and eventually didn’t even have sex for over a decade. I thought I was broken, damaged, or in some way incomplete because I couldn’t find this thing that every other person seemed to be able to. I thought there was something wrong with me, that I was the problem.
There isn’t anything wrong with me.
It has taken me a long time to say that. Probably too long. I am a good person. I am happy, social, attractive, and I care deeply about the people I come to know. I like going out, staying in, or any combination thereof. I am compassionate, supportive, giving, playful, entertaining and independent. I am easy to be around, and easy to love.
I just don’t fit the standard formula.
In all of my relationships I’ve felt restricted, or like something is missing, in one way or another. I’ve had to give up meeting new people, lost time with people I cared about, and changed plans countless time to fit another person’s life. Hobbies I enjoy have fallen by the wayside, and things I’ve wanted to try have never happened. I’ve given up freedom, experiences, friendships, and time, all in the pursuit of that one goal – becoming a couple.
In every relationship I’ve had that feeling of restriction has turned me into someone I don’t want to be, and someone my partner ultimately hasn’t wanted to be around. In some I’ve become exhausted, constantly worn down by not having my own needs fulfilled while I meet someone else’s, making me angry and petulant. In others I’ve become rebellious, lashing out and finding ways to hurt my partner in an attempt to express how unhappy I am. I’ve tried telling my partner exactly what isn’t working for me, what is missing, only to be met with confusion or abandonment. It’s not their fault. It’s not even mine. But it doesn’t work.
Recently I’ve been introduced to the concept of open relationships. Open means different things to different people, and many names and labels are used to define it and it’s varying levels of feeling and commitment. Regardless of the term used the definition I hear most is ‘committed intimate caring relationships with more than one partner, with the consent of all partners’. The rules are set by the people involved, and as long as everyone is honest and follows them these relationships work beautifully.
Imagine it. Not having to find just one perfect person to meet all of your needs, and not needing to be the one perfect person that meets all of someone else’s needs. Not having to restrict yourself to one person’s likes or dislikes, hobbies or passions, and not having to badger that person into participate in all of yours. Being able to find different people that fit the different parts of your life, that allow you to do things you love with people you care about who also love doing them, and knowing that you aren’t leaving someone out while you do that because they also have someone to do the things they love with. Sharing experiences and emotions, good and bad, with multiple partners, instead of requiring one to carry all the weight of it on their own. Being free to meet new people you might care about, without needing to give up anyone else first. Being allowed to care for as many or as few people as you want, for as long as you want and in whatever way you want, at any time.
I can’t imagine anything more fulfilling than that, and I’m looking forward to experiencing it for myself.