Alternative Relationships 101

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Open relationships: one guy comes to terms with what the world thinks of his lifestyle.

As it happens, Carrie's boyfriend is out of the picture now. He has been for a while. The story you just read took place about a year ago, and in the year since, I've had dozens of conversations with all sorts of different people about the open relationship Carrie and I are now exploring together. I've talked about it in detail with close friends, and with friends of friends. I've even brought it up during totally inappropriate times with random acquaintances, and with perfect strangers.

And while I'll be the first to admit that these casual conversations by no means qualify as any sort of scientific evidence, I can't help but think that I've unwittingly placed myself in a rather unique sociological position. Because while I certainly wouldn't claim to be any sort of an expert on the subject of deviant sexual behavior, I will say that I've managed to get a pretty decent handle on exactly what it is that we as Americans think about the practice of open relationships, or about alternative relationships in general. And while I don't mean to put too fine a point on it, what we think, apparently, is this: They are morally corrupt. They are shameful and indecent. To put it simply, they're just plain bad.

 

If you think I've got it wrong, spend five minutes scrolling through the comments posted at the end of my inaugural Marriage Without Monogamy column. A reader named Anna, for instance, describes Carrie and me as "both desperately naïve," calls us "worthless pieces of crap," and says, "I think these people are vile." Still another reader went so far as to track down Carrie's MySpace page. He then sent an email to her account expressing his desire that she should forever burn in hell.

But what these accidental voyeurs quite obviously don't understand is that in the vast majority of instances, those of us involved in open relationships are by no means swinging naked from the chandeliers at all hours of the day and night. We are not diving headfirst into a writhing group orgy every Friday and Saturday after work. We are not necessarily in the practice of shagging perfect strangers in the men's room of a dark-lit club. And most of us do not regularly snort rails of coke off each others' naughty parts. In fact, for me, being in an open partnership hasn't been about random sex so much as it's been an incredibly intense emotional education. I've learned to rope in my feelings of jealousy in ways I never thought I'd be able. I've learned to master a great many of my emotions.

In fact, if you've read my two previous Marriage Without Monogamy columns, this may come as something of a surprise, but from time to time, being in the relationship I'm in feels strange and awkward and confusing.

I'll admit: It's not always easy. And yet neither has it ever been boring. But it absolutely has always been worth it. It still blows my mind to think about how much I've learned about myself, and about the way the world works, in such a short amount of time.

One of my all-time favorite writers is a war reporter and travel journalist by the name of Robert Young Pelton, and he explained to me once during an interview that he lives a life of extreme risk and difficulty very much on purpose. "If you're not constantly learning as a person," he told me, "then you aren't growing as a person, either. And if you're not growing as a person, what's the point of even being alive?"

 
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