“If you love something, set it free. If it comes back, it is yours. If it doesn’t, it never was ”
— from a poem embroidered on wall hangings everywhere
I love my boyfriend. He’s beautiful and smart, sexy and devoted, fragrant and delectable. He makes me happy, and I would do anything for him. Almost.
A few years ago, I was having an affair. It was driving my boyfriend crazy. We discussed ending the affair to ease the strain on our relationship. I considered it. But in the end, I didn’t.
You see, I love sex. With my boyfriend, yes. But with other men, too. My boyfriend and my sex life – with and without him – are central to my happiness.
Am I an insensitive brute? Well, I suppose you should ask my boyfriend. But I don’t think so.
I know some people who use insensitive philandering to express their unhappiness in their relationships. Usually, these relationships are not meant to last, and they don’t.
The fashionable heterosexual line on adultery is that it is an expression of men’s fear of intimacy. Straight men in droves are joining men’s groups where, swollen with shame, they chastise themselves for their manly ways.
It’s true that lots of men fear intimacy. But that fear is not so much expressed in their sexual behaviour, as it is in their inability to speak honestly about the importance of sex in their lives.
Many straight men take cover in secretive boys’ clubs. They sleep around on the side, creating a supportive culture with male friends and colleagues around sex. They sacrifice their need to be understood by their spouses in order to avoid the terror of emotional self-exposure.
If these men began sharing their true feelings and desires, I’m not so sure their wives would be thrilled at what they’d learn.
For me, an open relationship creates intimacy. It does so by forcing both of us to be honest about what we want, and to face our emotional responses to those realities.
Our relationship wouldn’t work unless we were both secure about our involvement with each other. During the affair in question, my boyfriend’s concerns were not about my spousal responsibilities – it’s not as though I was sacrificing my quality time with him, or neglecting my domestic duties. The issue was his insecurity about my commitment to him. The affair provided an opportunity for me to evaluate and express that commitment, and my intentions with the affair. With these addressed, the affair ceased to be an issue.
I’ve learned oodles about myself through my relationship. I was surprised to discover that I am an intensely jealous and competitive person. I, too, have reacted to his little affairs with feelings of inadequacy, rejection and fear of abandonment. Facing those fears isn’t easy, but the experience is profoundly enlightening, empowering and fulfilling.
To embrace an open relationship is sublime. It is to accept certain truisms without devaluing the relationship: Nothing lasts forever; I cannot be all things to my boyfriend.
Maybe one of us will fall in love with another, and the relationship will end. Maybe we’ll drift apart and go our separate ways amicably. These things are as likely to happen in an open relationship as in a monogamous one.
It’s one thing to come to terms with one’s fears and insecurities. It’s another to construct a relationship around pandering to them. I don’t own my boyfriend. I can’t control him, and I don’t want to restrict his behaviour or impede his happiness to satisfy my hang-ups. That’s love for you.
David Walberg is Publisher for Xtra.