After I got divorced I decided to unpack the conventional notion of relationships — that they “should” be monogamous and long-term — and explore whether or not this oft-stifling paradigm fit me.
I suspended judgment about alternative lifestyles and sexual preferences. Why, exactly, did I automatically assume that people who preferred open and polyamorous relationships, or those who participated in group sex, were damaged goods? Did I have actual proof that this was the case, or was I just buying into a one-size-fits-all relationship model, the same kind of model that has made LGBTQ folks victims of backwards legislation, marginalization, and abuse?
With a 50% divorce rate, and who knows how high a percentage of miserably married couples who remain miserably married, why should people be squeezed into a box that doesn’t fit them? Is this not a recipe for crappy marriages, dysfunctional families, and existential despair?
* * *
I have an acquaintance, let’s call her Sophie, who has lived with a man and a woman for 20 years. They have raised two children together. They are each well-educated white-collar professionals who have remained happily committed for longer than many people in conventional relationships.
Before I embarked on my odyssey into the realm of alternative sexuality and relationships, I thought that Sophie was…well…sorta freakish. How does she decide who she’s going to sleep with from night to night? Don’t any of them get jealous? And what about the kids? Isn’t it awkward when they invite a new friend over and have to explain that their three parents share beds?
I still don’t know the answers to these questions. But I do know that Sophie and her two spouses have found a relationship that works. Their kids are thriving. So who am I, who is anyone, to pass judgment on a lifestyle that seems to benefit everyone involved?
I don’t think polyamory is for me, however. I think I’d either feel not special enough or exhausted trying to keep two people happy.
I’ve had experiences with two men in open relationships. They were lovely men: respectful, communicative, and relational. Neither of them was interested in just a body. They wanted a relationship with a person. They both took time to get to know me, to ask questions, and to answer my questions. There was nothing pushy or exploitative about them.
One of the relationships ended, frankly, because the sex was not that great. The other ended before it began. Although I liked John, I felt overshadowed by his girlfriend, who I spoke to, but never actually met. He talked so much about how fabulous they were together, and how fabulous their life was, that I felt diminished.
When he texted his girlfriend from the bar to tell her he thought I was hot, and then told me how much she liked hearing that I was hot, I decided to bow out. I wanted to feel special, not like a sexual surrogate whose role was to enhance another couple’s sex life. I wouldn’t say never to being with another man in an open relationship, but I wouldn’t seek it out. It’s just not my thing.
Recently I was contacted by an extremely attractive man on OkCupid who was in a committed relationship. He and his girlfriend had met at a swingers club and regularly sought out play partners with, or without, each other. When we spoke on the phone, I was both amused and put off by his honesty.
Within the first few moments of our conversation, he told me he was packing ten inches with the girth of a coke can. He then detailed his prolific group sex encounters. He was a regular on OkCupid, Adult Friend Finder, Craigslist, and in swing clubs. He and his girlfriend had sex five times a week. His sex life was so jam-packed, in fact, that I couldn’t figure out how he had time to work, do his laundry, or go to the grocery store.
I found his bragging a bit classless. Besides going on ad nauseam about his coke-can sized penis, he went on and on and on about how amazing his girlfriend was, and how amazing they were together. They were so fused that there didn’t seem to be any room for another, actual person. There was a parallel play quality in the encounters he described. He had no discernible feelings for any of his partners; they were simply bodies without personalities. One man, who arrived with a smaller member than promised, was summarily dismissed. And when I heard about the session he choreographed with eleven men and one woman, I was out.
I have never participated in any group sex arrangement. It sounds like it’s fun for couples who are secure in their relationships, or for a grounded individual who’s looking for a zipless fuck. But it also seems like an experience rife with abuse, as abusers and abusees have a away of finding each other. My concern is that someone seeking validation because he or she lacks self-worth, a strong identity, or good boundaries, will exit a group sex scenario more damaged than when he or she went in.
Because of this reason, I would only experiment with group sex if I were confident about the intentions and mental health of all involved.
I love the psychology of BDSM. I love that the dom and the sub know their roles and their rules. I love the communication and the empathy required to read one’s partner and respect limits. If done correctly, a BDSM relationship can be a gratifying, grounding relationship that makes both partners feel secure.
I have had experience with one man who identified as a dominant but was really a womanizing jerk with so many personas that I felt as if I were dating someone Patricia Highsmith dreamed up.
I have also been with two men who identified as dominants who were among the most romantic and chivalrous men I have ever met. They were much more interested in establishing a relationship than rushing to get me into bed. They were unusually astute individuals who used their powers of observation to make me feel comfortable, and in fact, even cherished.
BDSM gets a bad rap because those who don’t understand it think of whips and chains and one person being controlled by a nut case. Fifty Shades of Grey only fueled the belief that all BDSM relationships are predicated on an abuse of power, when, actually, they’re designed to be a consensual power exchange. Any sub who’s been with a dom who has his shit together knows that she’s the one with the power — because nothing happens unless she says it does.
Unfortunately, neither of my relationships with these men went very far because the sexual chemistry wasn’t there. But they were incredible learning experiences. I found the dynamic I didn’t know I’d been looking for. Now I just need to find that dynamic with a dom who lights my fire.
Finding Sexual Variety and Love
Ms. Quote, the sex educator and blogger behind A Good Woman’s Dirty Mind, commented on my recent post about overcoming sexual shame. She wrote that she wanted sexual variety in the context of a committed relationship, and happily, has found just that.
Her story made me realize two things. I would like a partner with whom I can share my life. I’d like to build a history with someone and one day look back on a life well-lived with the man I love. And I want sexual adventure that thrives in a loving, long-term relationship. I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to join the two, but I know that I’ll never again settle for anything less.