A husband and a girlfriend? An unconventional arrangement that works.
"I want you to kiss me," she said. Funny she should use those words when they so closely echoed mine more than ten years ago. "I want to kiss you," I had said to my then best friend Sophie Anne. "Me too," Sophie Anne had said to me then. "Are you sure?" was what I said to Jemma, the girl who was now requesting that I do something that I imagined could change a lot of things for a lot of people. Of course, I never could have known then just how much change it would mean.
I met Jemma at an art gallery. She was curating a show that I was reviewing for the paper. "Can I help you?" she asked. I was standing in front of a massive canvas, taking notes as I took in the colors, textures, and designs. I introduced myself and told her why I was there. "Let me get you a catalog," she said. When she came back she invited me to the official opening and lecture that night. That was the first of many outings we would go on together. As friends, of course.
She had told me she was straight. "Very straight. I don't have a problem with it. I just can't imagine ever being with a girl," she said when I told her one day that I identified as bisexual. Between that and the fact that she was eleven years my junior, a work contact, and not my type, I never gave a moment's thought to us ever being more than friends. But after about six months of spending time together, we went away on a weekend trip. I do some travel writing and sometimes can take someone along. It was on that trip that she asked me to kiss her.
"Where is this coming from?" I asked. I couldn't have been more surprised if she had asked me to rob a bank with her. Here was this straight-laced, adorable, intelligent, young blonde asking me to kiss her. Part of my shock stemmed from the fact that we spent so much of our time together talking about everything, especially about sex and love and relationships. She had been through some rough stuff in that department and had come to me to talk about much of it. So, you would have thought I would have had at least an inkling. But I was as blindsided as a girl could be. Honest to goodness.
"I don't know. I just know I want you to kiss me," she said. And I did. That was one year and seven months ago and she has been my girlfriend ever since. I'm still married, of course, and adore my husband, Christopher, as much as ever. But since that very first kiss, I not only haven't had any other lovers, I also haven't wanted any either. After my husband and I opened our marriage about five years ago, I had a handful of other lovers. It was fun. And it was exciting. But it was never love. After just a short time with Jemma, I knew it was something different.
I have gotten in the habit of calling my relationship with my husband an open marriage, strictly for lack of a better term. But it wasn't until I met Jemma that I started calling it polyamorous for one very simple reason. I love her. When I started seeing her, my heart expanded just like when someone has a second child. As much as the expectant parents might worry that couldn't be possible, it is. There is no shortage of love to go around when there are people around to love. What a great word. Polyamory. Many loves. Who wouldn't want that? Of course, I could hardly believe it was possible myself until I was in it. Wouldn't I fall out of love with my husband? Wouldn't it be a scheduling disaster? What will my kid think? Aren't I just immoral or a slut or a freak?
But the truth is I love Christopher as much now as ever. Nothing, not even scheduling, is a burden when it comes to love. Emily, my daughter, thinks Jemma is my best friend, nothing more and nothing less. And she is. I don't tell Emily about my interest in porn or my toy collection or anything else about my sex life. And that's the only part of my relationship with Jemma that I'm keeping from her, for now, and rightly so. She knows I love Jemma and she loves her too. And my husband adores her as well. She often comes over for dinner or spends the weekends at our place, playing scrabble with me, watching Hannah Montana with Emily, or talking wine and recipes with Christopher.
That's the extent of Christopher and Jemma's relationship. It's purely platonic. As of this writing, Christopher doesn't have any outside lovers. His choice, of course. Turns out there are plenty of couples out there in the same boat where one partner chooses to exercise his or her freedom to have outside partners and the other does not. The truth is, equity in a relationship stems from having freedom, not necessarily from acting upon it and Christopher's choice, he'll be the first to tell you, does not mean in any way that he in unhappy with mine.
And as for being immoral, a slut, or a freak, well, those are judgments and I like to remember that old saying about glass houses. Besides, I discovered there are a whole lot of people out there in open and swinging and poly and other "alternative" lifestyles. And, the ones I know anyway, have proven to be thoughtful, kind, intelligent people who are trying to figure out their way in the world just like anyone else. And if name-calling is required, which I wish we could skip all together, there are just as many immoral people and sluts and freaks in the monogamous world as there are in the polyamorous one. And monogamous relationships fail just as polyamorous ones do. How many people you have sex with or love doesn't speak to your character, just to your choices.
Sound boring? It is. Wonderfully, perfectly, normally boring. I don't regret for a second the way things were before Jemma, and I would never be so presumptuous as to suggest I know the paths my life might take in the future. But that's just it. Life is a journey. And as far as my sexuality goes, that journey has included so many things from monogamy to open marriage to polyamory and from heterosexuality to bisexuality. It's all a spectrum as far as I can tell, gender, sexuality, relationships, love. We all fit somewhere on it with very few of us at either end. It isn't always easy to choose that gray area in between. But, for me, it has always been worth it. What's the point of living an unexamined life?
So, it only makes sense to me that some people would choose monogamy and others open relationships where only sex is involved and others polyamorous relationships where love plays a role as well. Science tells us that we're not a monogamous species. (See David Barash's The Myth of Monogamy if you want an expert's take.) Choosing non-monogamy seems to me just as valid as choosing monogamy. You know, I wouldn't dare prescribe my lifestyle or any lifestyle for that matter to anyone else. I only know what works for me, for now.
I have a husband and a girlfriend and I have plenty of love to give them both and I can say without a doubt that they both have plenty of love for me.
Jenny Block writes for a number of regional and national publications, including the Dallas Morning News and American Way. She also blogs regularly for huffingtonpost.com. Her essay "On Being Barbie" appeared in the anthology It's a Girl: Women Writers on Raising Daughters and her essay "Portrait of an Open Marriage," originally published in Tango magazine, is scheduled to appear in Rebecca Walker's upcoming anthology Walk This Way: Introducing the New American Family in the Fall of 2008. Her new book, Open: Love, Sex, and Life in an Open Marriage is due out June 1 from Seal Press.