Navigating Love Outside The Norm
“I’m in love with someone else.” Oouff. That has the potential to land like a fist straight to the chest. And believe me, it hurts, on both the delivering and receiving end. I know this first hand because this is something that both my partner and I have said to one another over the course of the last two years.
Openness in our relationship has been something that my partner Sarah and I have talked about since the very beginning. I’ll admit, I wasn’t super keen of the concept when it was first introduced to me. Like, what do you mean you won’t be entirely mine?
We talked about the theory long before we put it into practice.
I had many preconceived notions about what I thought open relationships were. I also learned very quickly that I had many preconceived notions of who I was, as an individual and as a partner. Namely, I thought that it just wasn’t for me; I assumed that I wasn’t capable of the reality of dating someone who wasn’t my partner and having my partner date someone who wasn’t me. I assumed that if I loved someone else it meant that I couldn’t love my partner any longer because of the love and attraction I had towards the other person. I assumed I would become insignificant to my partner if she loved someone else and was interacting with them outside of our bond.
This isn’t entirely my fault. I mean, I was raised in a society that for the most part solely highlights monogamy (dating one person at a time) as the only way to love and connect. Within this structure, any other way of being was made out to be ‘unnatural’, promiscuous, and ultimately, shame inducing.
So needless to say, I had some hold ups.
As mentioned, we talked about it a lot. For anyone who has ventured into relationship dynamics that are ‘outside of the norm’ or is thinking about doing so, communication is key. It’s imperative to talk about what’s going on and how everything makes you feel. When do you feel insecure? When are you attracted to someone else? What actions (or inactions) make you feel threatened or unloved? How can you and your partner establish boundaries that enable you to feel safe, supported, and cared for?
In addition to the work that goes on inside the partnership(s), there’s also the potential to do work internally (and I highly recommend it). In my experience, this is where I focus a lot of my energy because everything that is said or done cause (sometimes quite intense) reactions within me. I have to turn inward and ask myself the tough questions. “Where does my insecurity come from?”, “Why do I feel like I need to uphold certain relationship frameworks?”, “What type of life do I want to live?”, “Why do I sometimes feel shame when I tell people outside of my inner circle about my situation?”, “How can I support myself and my partner(s) during the learning and growing?”, “How can I unlearn the relationship examples that have been force fed to me and begin to create a life that fulfills me?”
It’s challenging to do this. Opening yourself up and taking a look at what’s going on inside can be frightening. Presenting this version of yourself to your friends, family, and community can put you in an incredibly vulnerable position, especially if you’re uncertain how others will respond.
It’s a process.
This is something that certainly doesn’t come without its hardships. Deciding to take ownership of how I wanted to experience love and connection was incredibly freeing but also terrifying. The weight of the social script of what a relationship is “supposed to look like” (i.e., monogamous with many other heteronormative factors) was something I never knew to be so heavy until I stepped out of it and observed it from another perspective. I have encountered many challenges in doing so, including shame and guilt for romantically loving someone who wasn’t my partner. Immense jealousy also came up as I watched my partner interact with someone else, followed by deep, deep sadness. I also experienced a lot of confusion as I found myself confronting thoughts of desire for entering into a monogamous relationship with a new partner, even though the structure of the relationship dynamic that I was already in was open. In other words, I contemplated if openness was actually for me or not.
All of the questions that I’ve mentioned are things that I continuously circle back to. They are things that continue to shift and transform as I grow as an individual and as my partner and I explore, both independently and together. The challenges listed are not a complete and comprehensive list; more so, they are a few of the larger things I’ve tangoed with so far. What I enjoy about openness is the freedom I have to love and connect. I get to actively create a reality where I’m able to interact with people in the ways that make sense for me. Additionally, it has allowed me to show up for people that I care about in ways that are uncharacteristic from within the dichotomy of friend vs. lover. It’s a practice of intense honesty with myself and with others. In my experience, there isn’t one tried-and-true way to navigate these types of situations; they’re all unique in their own way because each person involved is different with their own needs, wants, and desires. However, honesty and good communication practices are a great place to start.