Open relationships

Tell me why you DO have open relationships…

“Please, whatever you do, don’t come back with an American boyfriend” my mum joked over coffee at Stansted, just a few hours before I boarded my flight to California.
“Of course not” I confidently assured her. I was going to return home with a tan, not a long distance relationship! However six months later, while the tan was still achingly absent, my quickly blossoming California romance had not faded one bit. Although technically, I did stick to my word. After all… He was German.

The open relationship was my idea. Frustrated with the thought of long distance but also not ready to break apart, adding the ‘open’ element to our affair lifted the pressure. It scared me that one drunken kiss or ill thought through flirtation could destroy something making me so happy. Especially when more often than not such antics are innocent byproducts of a particularly wild night rather than purposeful acts of cruelty or even necessarily a reflection of problems with your relationship. In fact, I think often it’s often far simpler than that. It’s natural to be attracted to other people, to get drunk and want attention, to be 21 and not be thrilled about the idea of a forced abstinence based on Eurostar ticket prices.

We do have a few ground rules. I’m a strong advocate of the idea that ‘ignorance is bliss’. I didn’t need to know what gelatin was really made of, or that in real life the stars of ‘Friends’ weren’t all that close. Similarly, if The German has a big night out and locks lips with someone else I’d much rather be oblivious. Of course as you move further along the ‘infidelity scale’ the reasons why I ‘need to know’ become somewhat more clinical. Although we agreed that swapping sex stories should only be done face to face and probably over a very stiff (double entendre intended) drink. If asked on a date the only condition is full disclosure of our relationship to the third party. The worst outcome of this arrangement for me would be for myself or The German to become just a ‘dirty little secret’. Neither of us wants to become an (albeit less mentally deranged) Bertha Mason, hidden away in an attic leaving Mr. Rochester free to merrily commandeer the fragile heart of Jane Eyre.

Of course it’s strange and often unpleasant to actually imagine someone you care about deeply with another. Jealousy is probably the most common reason people shirk from attempting an open arrangement and there really is no easy way to expel that particular green eyed monster in any relationship – let alone an open or long distance one. But what gets me through is the belief that a meaningless impulse of desire is separate from the far deeper bond you have with ‘your person’. I don’t believe this bond can be lessened in any significant way just because in one instant (especially when your significant other is an ocean away) someone else grabs your attention. It seems to me, that at such a young age, the conditions we place on the relationships are overly archaic and so lifting some of these pressures is smart and realistic.

Call me a ‘slut’ or insensitive if you will. After having had long distance relationships in the past ending in tears because of spousal infidelity, I can safely say that there is nothing more heart wrenching than feeling forced to give up on something because of a momentary lapse in judgement. What kills us when someone cheats is the breach of trust, right? All I’m saying is that this trust should be placed elsewhere. Instead of trusting that The German wont hook up with anyone else I have decided to trust that even if he does, our feelings for each other are strong enough that it doesn’t matter. That when we are together nothing is different, and that in the times when we are not together we shouldn’t feel forced to put our lives on hold. There’s a danger in long distance relationships to find yourself in a perpetual state of waiting, of missing. It’s a constant cycle of stopping and starting. I think this has the potential to breed resentments and creates frustration not only at the situation, but also towards each other. Delving into popular culture, I find it hard to name one book, movie or even song which hails the long distance relationship as a successful or even particularly enjoyable way to live. In most stories physical separation is the obstacle and ultimately the ill fated, tear jerking, sad ending. In my eyes then, any attempt to normalize such an experience by keeping our lives as stable as possible when we cant be together has to be worth a try.

Amy Briege

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Tell me why you DO NOT have open relationships…

What should door policies and books be that relationships should not? Open. That’s my heavy-footed introduction into a topic I feel perpetually awkward about. I’ve never voluntarily been in open relationship, but have stumbled into them on multiple occasions- just as I think things are getting good the boy confesses that he’s just not that into commitment and he wants to sleep with other girls. No fairy tale princess ever had that issue- Disney didn’t prepare me for polygamy.

The concept of sharing a sexual partner with others fills me with a multitude of sickly emotions. Jealousy is an obvious one. We’ve all been guilty of using gossip and social media to keep track of the ‘rebound’ girl/guy of our past fling while conjuring up curses on both their heads. So I can only imagine the envy that would accompany the reality that your current fling could be copping off with another girl. I would be constantly interrogating him, while simultaneously hating myself for not being laid back. And that can’t be healthy.

And what’s worse, the whole fiasco would make me feel embarrassed about my own sex life. While I don’t hold sex as a sacred treasure I rarely find myself enjoying ‘no strings attached’ sex. So, admittedly, compared to the loose and liberated of my generation, I don’t get much action. However, while I’m totally happy and comfortable with that fact, in an open relationship I would feel obliged to get with lots of other boys just to ensure that I was  getting as much action as my ‘other half’. And obligatory snogs only ever leave you with a sour taste in your mouth. An open relationship would become a competition that I would have no chance of winning.

On a final note, it appears to me that a lot of open relationships spring out of the panic that, while you might have a crush on nice, funny, intelligent, caring, charismatic boy/girl, there is probably someone out there who will be a better shag. But that stumps me. So maybe the person you’re seeing isn’t perfect in every criteria, but relationships are not about finding the full package, rather they’re about finding someone you can tolerate, or even better someone you actually like, then shaping each other until you become the dream team. Surely the thought that you could be having no strings attached sex with another person would loom over any relationship, removing the motivation to work on what you have with your partner until you reach the climax of the relationship ( double-entendre intended).

 

 

E. Shanks

Art by Harriet Speed

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