Open Relationships, Or: That Time I Told My Girlfriend to “Go Pro”
[ If you’re a family member or friend and don’t want to know anything about our sexual activities, I suggest not reading this post. ]
Have you ever interacted with something – a song, a painting, any piece of media really – and recognized that you can’t fully appreciate it because you’re not familiar enough with the skill and effort necessary for its creation? Meaning, have you ever looked at something and thought, “That’s really cool, but it’s probably way more amazing to someone who actually knows how hard it was to create”?
I experience this frequently with my girlfriend. Chriselle plays the guitar and writes her own music; I gave up the flute after a week in elementary school. She has a blackbelt in kung fu; I’m as graceless as a t-rex. She speaks multiple languages; I remember about 1% of my German and bailed on French after one class. She is an attentive, generous, and extremely talented lover; I’m sex-indifferent most of the time, and sometimes sex-repulsed. My point is, a lot of her skills are somewhat lost on me, as I can only appreciate them from an outsider’s perspective. And that seems like such a shame! If you master a complicated painting technique, you want someone to say, “Wow, that technique is really hard; you did a great job!” instead of, “This painting is cool :)” with no understanding of how hard you worked.
Case in point: about a year ago, after my lady had made me feel really, really good in certain physical ways, I realized her particular skills in the realm of lovemaking are basically wasted on me. Don’t get me wrong, I know she’s good – I just can’t appreciate how good the way someone else with more varied and refined tastes might. I’m just an amateur, and she deserves to do stuff with a connoisseur. So once we were done and cuddling, I looked over at her and exclaimed, “You should go pro!” with probably a little too much enthusiasm. No, I didn’t mean she should become a prostitute. But I did mean she deserved to have other sexual partners. I meant I thought we should open up our relationship.
If you’re in an asexual/allosexual relationship, just about everyone who knows will give you their uninvited opinion on whether those kinds of relationships can work or not. People who know nothing about either of you will tell you all sorts of bullshit: that romantic relationships need sex to work; that asexuals have a duty to let their allosexual partners sleep with others; that allosexual partners are selfish for wanting to have sex with other people; that monogamy will kill your relationship; that polyamory will kill your relationship; etc, etc, etc. And none of it is true, at least not for every single relationship every single moment. People change. Relationships change. Desires, turn-ons, and turn-offs change. In the beginning of our relationship, for example, we both wanted to be monogamous for personal reasons. We started dating with the understanding that sex wasn’t an option – then it became something we explored together – and then something that we had differing and sometimes conflicting feelings about. Change happens. We’re not the same people we were a year ago, and we won’t be the same people in a year that we are today.
My point is, we started out monogamous but then at some point I got to a place in our relationship where the thought of Chriselle sleeping with someone else felt… totally okay and cool. Like I would for any of my friends, I just wanted her to be happy and have experiences I couldn’t personally give her. As long as we remained loving, committed partners on the road to marriage, I didn’t see any issue with her having other folks with whom she could explore her sexuality. I wouldn’t stop her from training for a marathon just because I hate running, would I? No, I’d support her and be happy if she found other people to have that experience with. Sex honestly felt the same way – she’s good at it and wants to have it more often than I do, so why not find some other people who can fulfill that desire? I know she loves me and will always return to me. She knows I love her and encourage her to do this because I care so much, not so little.
Cut to the present. Our lives have been unbelievably hectic and in the rush of fostering kittens, planning a wedding, and dealing with work stress, our open relationship has yet to move past the theoretical phase. Chriselle has been chatting with some people on the OKCupid and Her apps, but except for one or two possible leads she’s really only making platonic connections. I think this delay is for the best, though, because it’s given both of us a chance to really get used to the idea. While a year ago I wasn’t sure how I would actually react when my suggestion became reality, now I know that I’m really very okay with it. Last night we lay in bed and I watched her swipe through matches, asking questions about what attracted, or did not attract, her to certain people. I was partly asking because it’s always hard as an asexual to grasp the concept of “sexual attraction” and how allosexual people experience it. However, I was also asking because it made me truly happy to see Chriselle putting herself out there. Even if none of those people work out as a “swim buddy”, let’s say, she’s still incredibly brave to hang out in the pool. I remember trolling dating sites for months and years for that one real, often fleeting connection, and it suuucks.
I guess what I’m trying to say is that I lay in bed last night watching my soulmate and best friend look for possible sexual partners and all I felt was excitement for her. Not jealousy. Not fear. Not anger or guilt. Just the excitement you feel when you care about someone and want them to be happy. It was a weird feeling, to be honest, because society teaches us to be jealous and possessive of our romantic partners – to feel otherwise must mean our relationship is broken or weak or messed up, right? No. If you love someone, you trust them. If you love someone, you want them to be happy. If you love someone, you share their life, not own it. Polyamory isn’t for everyone, but neither is monogamy. If we learned in high school health class that relationships can come in all shapes and sizes (and that those shapes and sizes change over time), maybe we wouldn’t have to do all this unlearning and relearning as adults.