As I explained in my intro to openness post on Feministe, my experience in a legitimate, consensual, open relationship is still new. My guy and I started considering this about a year ago, and I’ve been asking for resources and talking to folks ever since. I’ve learned that there are several different types of nonmonogamous relationships – swinging, polyamory, group relationships, polyfidelity, and so forth.*

My guy and I are not much into labels (for example, he takes issue with the term “open” relationship because he hates the idea that the default is a “closed” relationship, he also seems to have something against the term “dating”), but I suppose we’d fit most closely with polyamory. Polyamory is the relationship style in which partners are can have intimate relationships with people other than each other. In the interest of full disclosure, to date, we have not yet had full-blown relationships with other people. We have had attractions, sexual experiences, crushes, and close friendships that might have led to more serious relationships but did not.

I imagine that now that I’ve disclosed myself as nonmonogamous on these here internetz, there will be a lot of posts in the future about the dynamics of these relationships, my own experiences, what I learn, and so forth. But I wanted to start off with some of basic things – mostly covering what people ask me once they find out I’m in an open relationship. If people have questions, I’m more than happy to answer them. You can leave a comment or email me. I’ll try to answer as openly and honestly as I can, but if it becomes too personal, I might take the conversation off the blog in the interest of protecting the privacy of all other parties involved.

Things we “get”

Neither one of us is particularly jealous in the traditional sense. Sexually, we are both turned on when we see or hear the other experiencing sexual pleasure, regardless of who is on the giving end (this is known as compersion). Emotionally, we love seeing each other happy, regardless of who is involved in getting us to that state. EDIT: This is known as compersion (I carelessly structured this paragraph incorrectly, and the seemingly small mistake actually makes a big difference. See the comments and the compersion link for more info. Thanks Meg Que for catching this.)

This is not to say that we never experience jealousy, because we do. For example, my guy developed a close friendship with a woman who had things in common with him that I’ve never enjoyed. They got to sit around and laugh and talk about things I had little patience for. When they would hang out together (alone or with me), I felt jealousy because she was able to give him something I am not. Things like this happen all the time, but when they do, I simply check myself first. I try to figure out what’s at the root of my emotion, and deal with that. If there is something he needs to do differently, I address it with him, but if it’s something I can understand on my own and sort out for myself, then I move on.

Another thing we “get” that’s at the heart of nonmonogamy is we believe it’s impractical to assume that one person can be everything for another person. I personally think a lot of relationships have problems when you expect your partner to completely fulfill you mentally, emotionally, sexually, physically, and spiritually. It just doesn’t make sense to me. I think a lot of the time, people view love as their search for The One – the person who is 100% compatible with you, your perfect match. Well, I’m not perfect and I don’t expect anybody else to be. I also recognize that I will change and my needs will change, and ditto for my partner. We can’t expect that things will change in perfect unison. It doesn’t seem practical to me. I’m sure it can happen, but I think it’s rare.

Things we have trouble with

Communication is, at the moment, our biggest challenge. Whether the circumstance calls for creating boundaries, negotiating needs, or expressing an emotion, communication is essential. My guy and I have moments where we communicate perfectly. We each take turns expressing how we feel, validate each other’s feelings, and come to some sort of agreement about where we go from there. But sometimes we don’t communicate well at all. He wants things to progress naturally and therefore wants to avoid over-thinking and over-talking. Meanwhile, my thoughts and concerns have developed naturally and I want to address them as I have them. This often leads to arguing and talking at each other rather than with each other. It rarely, if ever, leads to any decisions or a sense that we’re on the same page.

We know what this comes down to, though. I’m the type of person who likes to read and discuss things with those who experience them so I know what I’m getting myself into and what I should prepare myself for. I’ve been reading materials and having conversations with people in nonmonogamous relationships to see what’s out there. My guy is more of the “jump head-first and figure it out as you go along” sort of person. It’s an annoying combination at times, but so far it’s been manageable at least.

All relationships have their ups and downs, their own set of struggles, and certainly nonmonogamy is no exception. But we both want to give this a try because we believe it is most in line with our own values and experiences.

*I recommend reading Opening Up: A Guide to Creating and Sustaining Open Relationships by Tristan Taormino. I don’t have anything to compare this book to yet because I’ve just started reading Ethical Slut, but I have heard from others that it’s the best in terms of showing a wide range of nonmonogamous options and practices.


At Sat Aug 15, 10:06:00 PM Chally said...

Hey, Sally. Just to say that I've been learning so much reading your posts on this. I think it's pretty cool you've acknowledged and honoured your feelings, which is so often a struggle, whatever they're about. xx

At Sun Aug 16, 09:51:00 AM agahran said...

As a longtime poly person, I'd like to say I think you're doing everything right -- including (and especially) not expecting perfection from yourself or your partner, or either of your lovers.

You WILL be surprised -- sometimes pleasantly, sometimes unpleasantly. And often we only find out what our boundaries are when we trip over them.

Question: How is your communication with each others' close friends and love interests? I've found building those bridges for direct communication can make all the difference down the line.

- Amy Gahran

At Sun Aug 16, 12:35:00 PM frau sally benz said...

Thanks Chally! It's good to know that people are getting something out of it, if only exposure to people who practice nonmonogamy. I think a lot of the misconception can be cleared up by talking more openly about these issues.

Thanks for stopping by Amy! So far, our communication with each other's interests has been good. We've spent time together in social settings and alone. It's a bit of a strange situation, but I try to make sure everyone is comfortable. I'm still trying to find a balance with that -- I don't want to seem like I'm too in the mix, but I also want everyone to be on the same page.

At Sun Aug 16, 02:15:00 PM Octogalore said...

FSB -- I think it is great that you've found a relationship style that works for you and someone else who shares that with you.

At the same time, to me your post reads as setting up your own philososphy as the ideal. eg, the fact that you refer to what works for you as "getting it" suggests that those who experience jealousy and monogamy in other ways don't get it.

I would instead propose that a different vocabulary besides "getting it" makes sense. I am in a monogamous relationship but don't experience debilitating jealousy as we don't cheat and we feel free to look at and fantasize about others but not any overwhelming temptation to act on those feelings. That works for me and, I believe, him, and I don't see it as "not getting" anything.
Similarly, I wouldn't characterize someone for whom a different paradigm than mine works for them as "not getting it" and would encourage others to characterize their own happy mediums as "working for me" rather than "getting it."

At Sun Aug 16, 02:57:00 PM frau sally benz said...

I must admit that I hesitated to use the term "get" in that way, but I decided to use it because it's what I thought best described how I am laying out my relationship.

Nonmonogamy has certain concepts that are central to making the relationships work. The ones I chose to highlight are the ones that seem to pose the biggest challenge for people I've spoken to.

I would also say that you can "get" these concepts and simply apply them to monogamy. They are not exclusive to nonmonogamy, they just come up as central challenges and hurdles to overcome. Similarly, I would say that you can be nonmonogamous and not apply these concepts in the same way I've laid out. There is a big range in nonmonogamous experiences after all.

At Sun Aug 16, 10:33:00 PM Anonymous said...

I've always said that a successful relationship requires a Bachelor's Degree in communication while poly requires a Masters degree. Keep reminding yourself of that and I'm sure the negotiating will get easier in time.

At Mon Aug 17, 01:20:00 AM Meg Que said...

I enjoyed your post, but one thing stuck just a vaguely sour point with me. You seem to be saying that compersion is a sexual feeling. I think as a generally rule this is not what people mean when they use this word.

Getting turned on by your partner being turned on by other people would be a kink. Compersion is more subtle than that, just feeling happy because your partner his happy. To feel anther's happiness as if it were your own.

For example, my wife is currently courting a lovely young lady. I know when she is talking/txting/aiming her, because she gets this adorable besotted smile on her face. This bring a very warm and happy feeling to me. That is compersion.

At Mon Aug 17, 09:35:00 AM frau sally benz said...

Hmm... I didn't even realize that I was doing that, Meg Que. Reading back now, I see what you mean though. I was just trying to give examples of sexual needs and emotional needs, but then lumped compersion with the sexual needs.

Thanks for pointing it out -- hopefully I haven't confused too many people and they'll have checked the link if they were curious. Grr, that was careless of me.

At Mon Aug 17, 11:36:00 AM lindsey said... :)

At Mon Aug 17, 02:20:00 PM dieselsandwich said...

For me and my partner, generally "jealousy" is more of an expression that one of us feels like we haven't gotten enough time together. So more of a loneliness and "missing you" feeling.

Having been a part of a three part poly group (triangular, we all dated each other) I can say that the most important parts are trust, honesty (with yourself too) and communication. Being open and honest about your insecurities or needs is the key way to find the roots to problematic emotions like jealousy. Communicating makes sure everyone is informed and knows what's happening. And trust is just necessary to have a relationship at all really.

One of the things that really burns me is when people talk about how me and my partner splitting from that other partner together is a failing of poly. Just because someone is poly doesn't mean that they aren't abusive or damaging and that is, in the end, why things broke apart. Because that third partner was abusive and harmful and would have been so even in a monoamorous relationship.

At Tue Aug 18, 11:13:00 PM bike groggette said...

I followed you hear from Shakesville and Feministe (great guest posts, btw).
Looking forward to hearing more about your experiences and growing pains with polyamory, frau. I'm just diving into nonmonogamy myself, but from the position of a single person who's not interested in any primary relationship right now.

At Wed Aug 19, 03:57:00 PM Anonymous said...

Open relationships are disgusting.

At Wed Aug 19, 04:00:00 PM frau sally benz said...

Thanks so much everyone for commenting. =)

Oh, and I'll keep in mind that somebody, somewhere out there thinks open relationships are disgusting.

At Thu Aug 20, 01:55:00 PM Anonymous said...

Well, I'm allowed to think that. I think one cannot be truly committed to another person when they're sleeping with whomever catches their fancy.

I find it dangerous from a health standpoint, and from an emotional standpoint.

In regular circles, they just call that "cheating", or "infidelity".

I find them plain disgusting.

In my mind, it amounts to wanting to have your cake and eat it too. Serious entitlement.

That, and in the history of romance, I've never seen a poly relationship succeed. Every single one of them fails.

All the poly people I've seen are depressed, unhappy, and unsatisfied, but always claim it has nothing to do with their dysfunctional relationship style.

At Thu Aug 20, 02:15:00 PM frau sally benz said...

Well, I'm allowed to think that.
Nobody said you weren't.

I think one cannot be truly committed to another person when they're sleeping with whomever catches their fancy.
Poly relationships are not only about sex. And poly relationships are about being committed to multiple people.

I find it dangerous from a health standpoint, and from an emotional standpoint.
Most people in nonmonogamous relationships set up rules and boundaries to protect their sexual health. They differ in practice probably as often as they do in monogamous relationships.

In regular circles, they just call that "cheating", or "infidelity".
The entire concept of cheating is breaking some sort of agreement within a relationship. If consenting adults enter an agreement that says they can have relationships (sexual or otherwise) with other people, this is not cheating. Furthermore, nonmonogamous relationships also have problems with cheating: if you break the rules you set in place, you have cheated.

I find them plain disgusting.
I have no response to this.

In my mind, it amounts to wanting to have your cake and eat it too. Serious entitlement.
This is because we live in a society that stigmatizes nonmonogamy. There is nothing wrong with being honest with yourself and others about your needs and then having them fulfilled. If it doesn't work for you (i.e. - if your important needs can be fulfilled by one person, and the other needs don't matter), then that's fine. But for others, it's not.

That, and in the history of romance, I've never seen a poly relationship succeed. Every single one of them fails.
I have seen several succeed, so this is a bit of a pointless argument. I've seen more monogamous relationships fail than succeed, which is part of the reason I started considering nonmonogamy. Our personal experiences and observations shape our preferences later in life. It's as simple as that.

All the poly people I've seen are depressed, unhappy, and unsatisfied, but always claim it has nothing to do with their dysfunctional relationship style.
It is completely possible that these people are depressed, unhappy and unsatisfied because their relationships were unfulfilling, or because nonmonogamy was not for them. That doesn't mean that nonmonogamous relationship are wrong -- it means that it doesn't work for everybody, just like monogamous relationships don't work for everybody but also aren't inherently wrong.

At Thu Aug 20, 02:50:00 PM lindsey said...

...i guess that all depends on your definition of failure.

poly relationships arent considered failures if they end or move on. mostly because its an agreement...ALL of it. failure places blame. if theres blame to be placed, that means the agreement (whatever it was) was broken. poly, if done right, should be an open discussion. if both people agree that the arangement isnt working, then its not a failure.

At Thu Aug 20, 04:14:00 PM dieselsandwich said...

I think one cannot be truly committed to another person when they're sleeping with whomever catches their fancy.

Why not?

I find it dangerous from a health standpoint, and from an emotional standpoint.

Provided one takes precautions with sex, having a lot of it or having it with several people isn't an issue.

And how is it dangerous from an emotional standpoint? If several people are happier together with each other instead of just as couples, I would say its more dangerous emotionally to be monogamous.

In regular circles, they just call that "cheating", or "infidelity".

Cheating is simply a violation of the boundaries of the relationship. Poly relationships often have boundaries too and therefore have situations they would denote as cheating.

In my case, having sex with someone without notifying your other partner(s), having sex unsafely or having sex with someone deemed to be dangerous or unsafe in general for you and the group is cheating.

Serious entitlement.

So relationships aren't supposed to be fulfilling then...?

That, and in the history of romance, I've never seen a poly relationship succeed. Every single one of them fails.

90% of the monoamorous relationships I've seen have failed (especially marriages). I guess monogamy must be totally broken as a concept.

...wait, we forgot about confounding variables; like incompatibility, logistics issues, trust problems, abuse, emotional problems and the simple drifting apart that happens surprisingly often to people (leading to a very successful mutual friendly split).

All the poly people I've seen are depressed, unhappy, and unsatisfied, but always claim it has nothing to do with their dysfunctional relationship style.

Odd, nearly all the monoamorous people I've seen exhibit those traits too. It must be their relationship style, because you know, personally experienced correlation is always causation! Darn statistics. XD

At Tue Dec 07, 02:49:00 PM Constantina said...


Sorry to see this lovely post got trolled towards the end of comments there...

I wanted to ask if you have, since this posting, found some ways to deal with your communication gap? I've been poly for about 3 years now, and it's only been hard in the past year because we've hit some small roadbumps that.. what's a good analogy... revealed flaws in the axel?

Basically, we suck at communicating through difficulties, mostly because he is a "let it go, let it be, move on," type, and I am a "lets communicate the boogers out of this until we're absolutely sure we both know where we are and what we're thinking."

We're trying to find common ground, and since it sounds like you have similar communication patterns (if I read that right), I thought I'd see if you could offer some guidance on the topic.


~ C

At Mon Dec 13, 03:27:00 PM frau sally benz said...

Hey Constantina,

Thanks so much for your comment! The communication thing is a constant struggle for me. I can't say I've really mastered the art of communication when it comes to open relationships, finding that I, too, communicate the shit out of things whereas other people are more "whatever happens, happens."

One thing that has definitely helped is more of a "raise the red flag" mentality. Basically, if he doesn't bring anything up, then I can assume that things are still fine on his end, and I try to not over-communicate unless something is actually bothering me. In practice, this isn't always that easy, especially since I'm still left wondering what he's really feeling, but at least it saves us the constant arguments. In the end, I think the most important thing is to trust your gut and be completely honest. If something doesn't bother you, then don't bring it up or over-analyze it. If something does bother you, then bring it up asap so that you can start fixing it.

Hope that helps, and feel free to email me if you want to talk more about it :)


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