“Are you a man?” The text appears on my screen, a response to a nude photo I had sent moments before, from a man I have never met in the flesh.
“What nationality are you?” He asks in a thick Irish accent as he sits down to breakfast for our first and last date. “Russian, Irish, English, Scottish, or thereabouts.” He looks at me sideways and states, “so you are Catholic and Jewish.” I begin to argue but he dismisses me, then asks if it is hard to have such cheap relatives.
“I don’t know why I am not attracted to you, I’m just not.” He looks at me incredulously, and still needs to know why.
I spend the next half hour explaining to him that I have no idea in about fifteen different ways.
The interactions I have before, during and after dates sometimes defy reason or explanation, but there is always, always, always something to be learned. I have been in Chicago for two weeks. Before I got here I set up dates with ten people, roughly. Of those, half didn’t cancel. Of those, two people were worth considering. Of those, one was someone worthy of my time and effort.
At this point in my life, dating is a numbers game and in order to get what I need, I must practice patience, openness, and compassion.
“Ugh. Why the hell do you do this to yourself? It sounds exhausting. Don’t you get enough from your fella?” She takes a tug on her cigarette and blows it toward the Magnificent Mile. Very often conversations with my friends revolve around this item when we are talking about my relationship status. I have the good fortune to be able to be forthcoming with my friends about my open relationship; mostly because I know they love and support me, but also because I refuse to keep my sexuality a secret.
I was raised by women who had to keep theirs a secret and it did them no favors.
I date so that I have the opportunity to get good at being vulnerable, and more importantly, so that I know how to handle it when someone does something which is either insulting or abusive. The more I date, the better I get at standing my ground while simultaneously being open. This is a skill that I have honed and continue to hone every time I go out on a date. It is still work, but I get better all the time. Then, there is the other thing that can happen, that thing that is rare, but exists, just like the White Buffalo.
The other thing that happens is when you meet someone that you actually like. This is a wonderful event in any individual’s dating life, but when you are in an open relationship, it is especially wonderful because you know there are boundaries. Typically, if you are dating to find your person or dating because you like it, and you have no other commitments, you can be completely open to what might come your way, and that is awesome. But, when you are dating while you are in an open relationship, you know there is a point past which this whole exercise cannot go. In my opinion, and I realize I am most likely very much alone in this sentiment, this boundary acts like a perfect and comfy security blanket.
I feel safe knowing that I can freely share my body and my sexual energy with a person and be very clear about the fact that we will never be arguing over how much attention I need, how much he looks at other women, or how boring the sex is getting. No. I will not. That is because I save these conversations for the one person I love the most, the person who is my person. I know that my person, my fella, is the person I will grapple with. He is the person from whom I will ask for more.
“Hey,” he says to me from across the bed, “I love you.”
My unfortunate response: “Why?”
The ridiculous things I say when I am not thinking. I don’t put myself in that place, in the place to be vulnerable to love on my dates, and I assume that the people I have dates with do not put themselves in that same place because it is safer, so when I get the love message, on a certain level, it freaks me out because I know I am not one of those people who can love more than one person.
I just can’t even fathom it.
One relationship takes so much energy.
The questions most people ask me about my relationship, “don’t you get jealous?” or “aren’t you worried he will fall in love with someone else?” these questions are important, in a way, but miss the point for me.
I can’t control what happens with him.
Even if we were monogamous, this would still be true. He is free to feel things for people as his feelings arise.
I am not in an open relationship for him, I am in it for me, and the reason I am in it is because I want to get to a point where I don’t have to worry about that stuff. I used to be that way. I used to worry that my wasband/boyfriend/partner would leave me for someone else.
Now, when I am feeling jealous about my fella spending time with another person, I know it is because I am not getting what I need—-and that is not his responsibility.
All my life, I have had trouble asking for what I need and what I want, and now, I am in a place where I must ask for it. My relationship requires it. It will not be his love for another or my love for another that breaks us up; it will be my inability to ask him for what I need, or his inability to be reasonable when I ask for it. In the end, this is what it comes down to, and not just in open relationships, in every relationship, even the ones you have with people you don’t have sex with. Even, and especially the one you have with yourself.
Every relationship is a mirror, but the ones I have with my dates are less so because I want them that way. Yes, they are easier because the hardest thing for me to do is to ask for what I want, more so, to feel worthy of what I am asking for, and I never have to do that with these people. But I know that if it went further, that is where it would go, no matter who they are, no matter where they are from, my challenge would always be the same.
I would always have to work on asking for what I want. I know that if I let myself fall for one of them, the relationship would be no different than the one I have now, because I would still be the one having it.
So the question; “Aren’t you getting enough from your fella?” Well, no. I am not. But that is not for his lack of trying. It is because, deep down, I am afraid to ask. And from where I am sitting, having sexual relationships with others reminds me to do just that. They remind me on a gut level that the problem is not that my fella is stingy.
The problem is that I sometimes become so petrified of asking that I simply don’t. And this would be the same with any person I chose to be with.
So I am more than willing to endure the occasional rude text, the occasional date gone wrong, and the occasional uncomfortable conversation with a friend, because I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that what I need more than anything is to believe that I am worthy to the point that I am willing to take the risk and ask for it.
And I know that I will get there, because I am doing everything I can, including reminding myself that it is all within my power.
Author: Sara Young
Editor: Renée Picard