February 12, 2018
During a recent lunch date with a good friend, I revealed that my long-term partner and I were tentatively dipping a toe into the waters of non-monogamy.
He flashed a "bless-your-heart" look at my naïveté and said, "And you're actually telling people that, aren't you?"
He had been there before and understood how the world works.
"I admire you for that," he added, as though I had just announced a plan to jump out of an airplane or something that's genuinely brave.
According to conventional wisdom, mine is a cautionary tale. I am woman who's doing it wrong when it comes to relationships. I've been with the same guy for eight years, and though we live together and are completely committed, we're probably never getting married.
We both have really close friends of the opposite sex, some of whom have even been previous romantic partners. We hang out with them alone. Sometimes, alcohol is involved (a Ghost of Christmas Future-esq specter of Mike Pence sits in the corner and scowls at me as I write this article.) I'm currently away for the winter visiting my best friend/former roommate in another state without my partner, Sean. He will most definitely be hanging out with girls I don't know and going to strip clubs in my absence. Take a minute to gasp in horror.
While some of the people in my life are achieving the aforementioned milestones naturally and finding genuine happiness this way, I see just as many struggle with the idea that they are "supposed" to do something in a certain way, at a certain time, and if they don't, they have profoundly failed.
I've had a friend confide in me that she was afraid it was a bad sign if she didn't want to spend every waking moment with her boyfriend. She was relieved when I told her that some people just need more alone time and it was perfectly natural. Variances like this don't occur to people because they're not often talked about. It's not that doing things a traditional way is wrong, but it's been the dominant narrative for such a long time that most people don't even consider the possibility of another option.
There was a time when I really did want to get married, but it wasn't for the right reasons. This was made clear when my life partner told me he really doesn't believe in marriage, but would do it for financial reasons or if it was very important to me. I thought long and hard about it and realized that we already had the level of commitment I had always dreamed of, and what I really wanted was a party. I thought it would be fun. It was a stupid, shallow reason. As for the commitment, I didn't want to feel like we were waiting for something like this to legitimize us.
Marriage is an inviting premise for many people because it implies a level of stability. For me, that doesn't feel realistic. There's no guarantee my partner and I will be together forever, and if we were married, that wouldn't change. As a person who fears the unknown, this was a hard realization for me. It's been much healthier to just lean into that uncertainty than to spend every waking moment worrying about it.
Since my partner and I got together, we have always made it a priority to maintain our independence. We both have best friends who are not each other, and those friendships are equal in importance to our relationship. Other than a mutually agreed upon definition of cheating, we don't place restrictions on each other just because we are together. If one of us wants to take a trip alone or with friends, we do. If one of us wants to go out, we do. A surprising number of mutual friends have raised their eyebrows at my going away for the winter and I can't say I understand why. We do hope to spend the rest of our lives together, so what's a couple of months apart? I would, at some point, like to live my life without the constant barrage of questions:
"Is your relationship okay?"
"Why would you want to leave him for five whole months?!"
"But...it's just so weird!"
Recently, we decided to open the relationship a bit, and it's only brought us closer. When I originally contemplated this a year ago, I was cautioned against it by well-meaning friends. I was "playing with fire," supposedly, and endangering a solid relationship for no good reason.
I'm a child of divorce, and the idea of creating my own family appeals to me in a very fundamental way."
While the perennially single woman is viewed with condescending concern, the woman in a committed, happy, healthy relationship who doesn't guard it with her life is seen as ungrateful. I had achieved the exalted end goal – why would I carelessly endanger it in such a way? I refuse to live in fear that way. What I want is the type of relationship that's able to withstand – and even flourish – in these conditions. If this is not that, I would prefer to know now. I want us to grow together without losing each other. I'm actually proud of how maturely we have handled this. I've since had mixed responses from the peanut gallery.
To make matters even "weirder," my partner and I have always thought the best living situation for us would be communal.
We would both prefer to live with close friends as well as each other. My best friend, Joanna, and her partner plan to join us in Philadelphia this summer. She's bought a beautiful townhouse in Fishtown which we will all live in together for (presumably) the rest of our lives. People cannot seem to wrap their heads around this at all. Honestly, I'm just as committed to my friend as I am to my partner.
I can think of no happier situation than living with two of the most important people in my life. Why wouldn't I want that to be permanent? The four of us are all writers, and having that sort of creative community in our own home will be wonderful. The Greek chorus of our friends and acquaintances is very confused why we would do this if it's not some kind of poly-relationship. What can I say? I'm a child of divorce, and the idea of creating my own family appeals to me in a very fundamental way."
When I've explained to people that my relationship doesn't really have "rules," there always seems to be this unspoken judgment. It's assumed that all straight men have one foot out the door at all times and the woman's "job" in the relationship is to nail him down as much as possible. If you fail to do this, and he does something you consider cheating, well that's what you get for not having your life revolve around keeping tabs on him.
People have different comfort levels when it comes to these things, but possessiveness shouldn't be the default. It shouldn't be assumed you're asking for trouble by not subscribing to this norm. If this all blows up in my face somehow and I end up alone with my best friend and our cats, that is far preferable to being trapped in the wrong relationship.
There are so many unique paths you can take in life. It's important to do what feels right to you and not feel pressured to subscribe to a certain ideal. I want to encourage critical thinking and living with intention. Growing up, we are presented with one or two examples of how your life will turn out in the future, but this is only a construct. There's so much more out there if you keep an open mind.