Open, informed communication can help you find success in non-traditional relationship situations
In 2016, after my partner and I had been happily dating for two years, I became friends with someone I really liked in college. Like, really liked. And it just so happened that they liked me back. So here I was, dating this amazing guy, but I was head-over-heels for someone else. I felt like I was the worst, most ungrateful girlfriend in history, and knew that there would be no easy solution to this. Maybe it was because I was reading Eat, Pray, Love and feeling adventurous, or maybe it was because I was 18 and reckless, but I broke up with my boyfriend. I dated the other person for about a week before regretting the decision and getting back with my original partner. This whole ordeal left everyone hurt and confused, and I felt horrible.
Fast forward to 2018, when I was picking up magazines at the library I worked at and I stumbled upon a New York Times magazine cover sporting the headline “Is an open marriage a happier marriage?” This was the first time I had heard of anything besides monogamy, and after reading the article I decided that I wanted to open up my relationship.
The whole situation of asking my partner was nerve wracking. I’ve never been good with words, so I came up with a genius plan to avoid rejection and actually communicating. I’d just point out the magazine on my desk, opened to the feature, and said, “Hey, this is kinda interesting, right,” to gauge his response. He glanced at it, shrugged, and started talking about something else. Plan A failed, so Plan B had to be initiated.
To that end, I just blurted out, “I want to open our relationship!” and waited anxiously for a response without saying anything else. He said that we shouldn’t, and the disappointment crushed me. He explained it was because we weren’t good at communicating. After that, we didn’t talk much for a bit and it was an awkward few weeks while I processed the fact that I might always feel torn in a monogamous situation.
There had been a handful of times throughout our relationship where I liked someone else and had to stuff those feelings away, or someone asked me out and the sole reason for me turning them down was because I had a boyfriend — which never felt right. Was I so ungrateful that I couldn’t just be happy with the same person for the next 70 or so years?
When my partner and I moved to Victoria in July to go to UVic, I started following the “UVic Confessions & Crushes” Facebook page. A common theme in the posts was being torn between partners, and many users commented messages along the lines of “monogamy is flawed.” Feeling that I wasn’t alone in my situation, I decided to give it another go and propose non-monogamy to my partner again. We had grown up so much together since then and could finally communicate openly and honestly, and I actually had the words to clearly express what I wanted and why. This time, my proposal was met with enthusiasm, and I was overjoyed!
The first step was to define the terms of our relationship. We did some research and found that the idea of an “open relationship” didn’t actually line up with what I wanted. An open relationship generally refers to a relationship where you have a main partner, and are sexually non-monogamous. As a hopeless romantic, I wanted to experience all the lovey-dovey fun stuff of dating and share intimate bonds with other people. In this case, “polyamory” seemed to be the better label for our situation.
Now came the hard part: actually meeting other people. Being socially anxious made dating again seem terrifying, especially because I hadn’t done it in so long. I turned to OkCupid at first because it’s regarded as one of the best platforms for non-monogamous folks, but I soon realized that meeting complete strangers was not my jam. My partner, however, was going on plenty of dates, and with some folks I’d be jealous of even if they weren’t dating him. The jealousy is difficult to deal with, but normal to experience. It’s crucial to communicate these feelings and not bottle them up until they turn into resentment. I also had to remember the key idea that love isn’t a finite thing and when you like someone new, it doesn’t subtract from how you feel about someone else. With this in mind, it became easier to let go of my instinct to see another person as a rival, and to instead see them as another person who appreciates my partner.
The process has been an emotional rollercoaster, but has yielded some surprising benefits. I’ve learned to combat jealousy (something I’ve always struggled with) and express how I feel in a way that I’ve never been challenged to do in the past. My partner has also grown emotionally and so far this experience has had a positive impact on our relationship, contrary to the doubt conveyed by friends. My biggest takeaway from this experience so far is that with a lot of communication and honesty, as well as getting to know oneself better, non-monogamy can really work and not damage your pre-existing relationships.
My advice to those who feel like they wanted to be consensually non-monogamous with their partners is to make sure you have very open communication in the first place, and to do plenty of research regarding what you want so you can be clear-cut with how you’re feeling. I’ve met plenty of people here in Victoria who are in a variety of non-traditional relationships, so it’s not as unusual as I would have thought, and it really helped to know this in order to feel comfortable telling others that I’m in a polyamorous relationship. Hopefully, sharing my experience can have the same effect on anyone considering this.