When my husband asked me to marry him in a vineyard a year and a half ago, I was overjoyed. We spent a beautiful day together in the Valley talking about our life and the wedding that was now in our immediate future. When the day was done and it came time to share the news, the first people we called were the lovely couple we had been dating for just shy of a year.
My husband and I have what I like to call a respectful-and-consensual-quasi-non-monogamist-marriage—but since that’s a ridiculous mouthful, we just call it an open marriage. Ever since I was in high school I knew that I was going to have an open marriage. I didn’t know anyone in an open relationship nor had I ever seen one before, but somehow I got it in my head that it was something I wanted before even really knowing what it was. Maybe it was because I had seen my parents dealing with infidelity, or maybe it’s just my genetic makeup. Who knows. I just knew the idea of lots of people loving each other appealed to me.
I read somewhere that there are about as many kinds of polyamory as there are polyamorists, and my husband and I just have one kind. Like any relationship, figuring out what you want your relationship to look like is no easy task. For us it took loads of communication, tons of honesty, and a willingness to explore and occasionally figure out some things you don’t want to do.
Over our five years together, we’ve learned two basic things about how we want to engage in an open marriage:
1. Our marriage will always comes first. Feeling and showing love is *awesome*. We want each other to feel as much of that through life as possible, but never at the expense of our marriage. We’ve promised never to use other relationships to hide from problems we might be having together. If an outside relationship is causing too many problems in our marriage, it ends. If one of us needs to be monogamous for a little while, we do it.
2. We don’t date people separately from each other. People always ask if I ever get jealous- I did before we learned this. It’s the difference between splitting and sharing. Husband gone for a few days visiting a girl with whom I don’t have a relationship? That’s splitting, and I get jealous. Us both dating the same person (or people) with whom we occasionally have one-on-one time? That’s sharing, and it makes my heart feel all full and happy. We want to share our love, not divide it up. We want to ADD to our relationship.
Like anyone trying to do something outside the mainstream, I get a lot of unsolicited advice and tons of loaded questions. You ladies making non-WIC choices for your weddings probably know what I mean. Take for example this gem I get all the time:
“Your lifestyle is fine and all, but what’s the point of getting married if you aren’t faithful to each other?”
It’s a common misconception, but my husband and I *are* faithful to each other. We never cheat, meaning we never go beyond the pre-determined boundaries that we laid down together in our relationship. My husband still has the ability to cheat on me, just in a different way than you might think. Over the years we’ve come to refer to this faithfulness as “respecting the foundation,” and it’s pretty much become our relationship motto.
So why did we get married? For me, being non-monogamous doesn’t erase the desire for a life partner. I wanted someone to grow old with, have children with, and potentially love forever. It’ worth saying, too, that I can love more people than just my husband without loving my husband any less. For us, love is not a zero sum game. My girlfriend was the leader of my bridal brigade and was totally there for me on my wedding day. Does her presence there take away from my husband? Absolutely not. All of us there together, loving each other, makes the love even bigger.
I’ve heard people say that they could never have an open relationship because it would just take too much work. I’d love to say that isn’t true – but it ain’t no joke. This sh*t is hard. Take for example when we were dating a couple—there weren’t just two relationships going on. After mapping it out one night to sate our own curiosity, we realized there were really 15 relationships going on. Yeah. It can be challenging. But no marriage is easy, right? Sometimes it’s pull-your-hair-out-hard, but you work through it because you want it. Being able to love my husband, have him love me, watch him love others, and love others together– I feel so surrounded by love, sometimes I feel like the luckiest person on the planet. It makes all the work we put in feel utterly worth it.
Truth be told, there isn’t a relationship out there that wouldn’t benefit from the amount of work, communication and constant introspection that it takes to manage an open marriage. Husband and I are always assessing our needs and wants and talking to each other about it. We don’t have a lot of relationships to emulate or look up to, but that has served us well. We rarely compare our marriage to others, and we get to build our ideals and boundaries from scratch. How awesome is that?
Of course there’s all sorts of odds against us, and horror stories about how our marriage could end up. But what marriage doesn’t have that? Wedded bliss is supposedly a risky thing these days. Sure, I could opt out of marriage like a lot of people in my social circle. I could choose not to try. But I chose otherwise. It might be stupidity, but it feels more like bravery. Because even with all the statistics against us, we still want to work for something that makes us happy. Call me crazy, but isn’t that kinda the point of life? Yup. It is. And it doesn’t have to be anyone else’s definition of “happy”. Just ours.