I began practicing open relationships when I first began studying at a Tantric school in Thailand, with a large percentage of the community also living this lifestyle.
I never thought that this would be me.
I have had friends that were practicing open relationships for years, and never had any interest in it. It just seemed like unnecessary headaches and drama.
I only knew one friend in university who was living this way successfully. Most open relationships I knew about were fraught with jealousy, insecurity, with people hurting each other, and they usually ended badly.
But, something I now tell people all of the time after being in an open relationship myself for five years is:
It’s not just open relationships that are riddled with problems, it’s most relationships.
Seriously, think about it. How many people in your life have good relationships? If you are like me, or most people I know and have talked to about this, the answer is very few. Of course we all know that couple that just seem to be magically in love, and have been for 10 years. And perhaps we know a couple that has been married for 50 years and still seem to get along and enjoy each others company. But most likely, we know way more people that are in unhealthy relationships, that are bored with their partner, that move from one relationship to another consistently recreating the same patterns.
So when I looked at it, the amount of people that I know that are in healthy, functional polyamorous relationships is at least directly proportional to the amount of people I know that are in healthy, functional monogamous relationships—it’s just that there are more people practicing the latter. And actually, most people that I know that are in polyamorous/open relationships are quite committed to working on their relationships, have good communication skills and even when there are challenges, handle them in a more mature way.
But Im skipping ahead.
Why did I begin practicing open relationships?
I started when I went to a Tantric spiritual community. Not because everyone else there was doing it. But because I was given insight into this community’s intentions for living this way.
There are many varied reasons that people have for practicing this lifestyle, from sexual exploration and freedom, to rebelling against traditional culture, or even in unhealthy ways to punish a controlling partner, as a way to balance unequal sex drives, or to have different needs met by different partners.
So firstly, it was explained that whatever choices you make, do so with consciousness. Every choice—if you choose to be a meat eater or a vegetarian, for example—do so consciously. Bring awareness into that decision. Why do you choose to eat meat, or abstain from meat? What pros and cons are there? What consequences are there to that choice? Is this a choice made from ego, or is this a choice made from a deeper truth?
So if you choose to be in a monogamous relationship—why? Just being in a monogamous relationship because it’s what you have always done, or because it’s normal, or because it’s safe—these reasons were rejected as being pedestrian and un-conscious.
And likewise, choosing to be in non-monogamous relationships because everyone else was doing it, or just for the hell of it, or because someone you were interested in was doing that—all of these reasons were rejected as well.
The reasons that open relationships were suggested as a spiritual practice, and why in the end I chose this as my lifestyle, were to practice unconditional love, and non-attachment.
These two principles can, of course, be practiced in many ways, but open relationships are ideal for working towards them.
Unconditional love: In this context, loving someone regardless of them choosing to have sex with, or even be in love with, someone else. And recognizing that love is infinite—love just is, but that most of us choose to receive love from only one place, or one source. And that is not necessary.
The way that I practiced this with my first poly-girlfriend was by asking her to tell me beforehand if she had a date with her other lover and when she did, rather than try and distract myself by spending time with friends, or getting a date myself to “balance things”—I would spend that evening alone. By choice. And I would sit with all the feelings, emotions and thoughts that came up. For me that was mostly insecurity, comparing myself to her other lover, and fear of losing her, though there were some small amounts of jealousy as well. If the emotions were overwhelming then I would sublimate them until the point at which I could handle them.
And then I would conjure up the image of her, in the midst of all the fear, insecurity and jealousy, and I would actively send her love. And I found that after some time, the love just flowed and those other feelings would subside a bit. At that point I would conjure up the image of him and I would actively send him love. This would usually reignite some of those feelings, but again, after a while they would subside. And I would repeat this process a third time imagining them both together. Through this process I would come to find joy in her joy, and to love her despite her choosing to love, and make love, to others. And, also, to come to love the other men that were bringing her joy.
Of course, being human, this is not always the case. Even after years of actively practicing this, there are times that I was knocked off center, and could not see past the pain, the hurt, the jealousy, and the fear that came up. But that is why it is such a great part of a yoga practice, and toward growth and evolution as a person.
With non-attachment, this is even more the case. This is such an important part of a spiritual practice, and yet so difficult to truly embody. I found that when I was fully present, the highest version of myself, I was able to experience this truly. But the slightest bit out of center and I then went to one of two extremes: detachment/indifference or possessiveness/grasping.
But again, the practice of open relationships, and all the various experiences that I had within that context, have been indispensable in my understanding of non-attachment, and have brought me such growth in my life.
I discovered that there were other benefits to polyamory, and open relationships:
The main one was the sheer difficulty of being in more than one relationship, and the levels of honesty, with self and other, and communication that that demands. I was put to the test a number of times, sometimes failing and sometimes succeeding, always learning: in terms of how to properly communicate, how to express and ask for boundaries, and to move through ego wants into deeper truths, and how to be honest about those truths with myself and with lovers.
I also discovered that though love is infinite, time and energy are not. And so the task of balancing multiple relationships taught me a lot about myself, and forced me to prioritize many things in my life. I had many beautiful experiences, relationships and encounters. I had many painful and ugly experiences and encounters. All of which I grew from.
Although I also feel that they go hand in hand, I feel that I have evolved as much from the practice of open relationships as I have from my yoga practice on the mat. This is beautifully expressed in this quote:
“Life is relationship. We are constantly relating to one thing or another. However, within this infinite sphere, the loving relationships are undoubtedly the most powerful catalyst or activator of the truth. If life is a school, relationships are our university. Through relationships we have a chance to mature and activate the human values that facilitate our evolution. This process happens because the other, regardless of whoever they may be, is always acting as a mirror that reflects the parts of ourselves that we need to see. Sometimes, the other reflects aspects of the higher truth and the Being that dwells within us, and other times they reflect aspects of the transitory truths that also inhabit us.”
~ Sri Prem Baba, from the book Love and Be Free
He is talking about any loving relationship as a mirror, so then expanding on that analogy multiple relationships would offer multiple mirrors to the self.
And yet, I have said to many friends, many times: “I’m not sure if this will be my lifestyle forever, but for now at least I’m learning tons from it.”
And I have chosen now, in the current relationship that I am in, to practice monogamy, or, as opposed to an open relationship, a focused relationship.
When asked about open relationships, Prem Baba answered with the following:
“This stage when one experiences diversity moved by the abundance of differences, freedom, spontaneity and love, does exist within relationships, but it is very rare… Observe if your heart is truly opening, whether or not you are putting one relationship against the other, or if you are even using one relationship in order to run away from the other… This happens in order to escape revelation… When the relationship requires revelation and asks that you touch your secret pages of the book of life, the most common thing is for you to try and escape this. The escape route is another relationship.”
So at this point in my life, and in my relationship with relationships, I have been exploring my abandonment wound. Nearly all of us are wounded, and for many that wound is a wound of abandonment, our need for love not being met for some reason, a feeling of betrayal or rejection that can manifest in many ways.
For me this manifested in a sense of unworthiness, a sense of being unlovable and unworthy of love by the feminine. And I kept inviting this pattern into my life in relationships, unconsciously.
In some ways, despite all the learning and growth that I received from it, the lifestyle of open relationships was both a way of repeating my pattern—of continuing to be “hurt” and “betrayed” by the feminine, and at the same time a way of avoiding that potential pain by not “touching the secret pages of the book of life,” to use the words of Prem Baba. Or, in other words, avoiding going really deep with another person.
Through the healing that I have done around my wounding I have now found myself in the position of having met and fallen in love with an incredible woman, one who meets me on every level—physical, energetic, emotional, mental and spiritual.
To date our relationship has been “open,” but she recently told me that her truth is that this is not for her. That when she imagines our relationship continuing in this way that she knows in her depth that it will wound her tender heart. That she will never be able to completely relax and expand into love, but rather will be aggressively challenging herself to love and to stay loving despite the pain.
As an Aries myself, I am familiar with the last notion—one of my personal mottos being a line from The Prophet on love: “to bleed willingly and joyfully.” But she is a sensitive cancer, and all soft and sweet and feminine underneath the armor of her crab shell. And her truth is that, while she would be able to survive such a relationship, it would not provide her with the space in which to allow her heart to blossom, to expand joyously.
Is this a deal breaker? No. I have never identified with “being poly” and I am fully committed to this woman and this relationship. But I am exploring for myself what my motivations are for choosing to be monogamous. To make sure that I am not doing it just to go along with her.
I am choosing to be in this focused relationship with this woman in order to go really deep. To experience, in Prem Baba’s words, “revelation.”
Not that this cannot happen in an open relationship. But certainly open relationships tend towards the diffusion of energy outwards, into multiple people. And certainly not all monogamous relationships are deep, but the container it makes has the tendency to create that opportunity.
I am choosing to go deep with this woman, not only into love and the joys that that can bring. But deep into the shadow. Deep into the darkness. Deep into the wounds. Deep into the self.
I am choosing to break my pattern to invite women into my life that will hurt me, abandon me, show me with their actions that I am unlovable.
I am choosing to prioritize nurturing this connection over sexual and emotional variety. To learn how to be fully present with one partner, without the distraction of others, with “letting off steam” with others.
Writing these words, making this choice, is bringing up a lot of fear. Not fear of being with one person only, or fear of not being up to the task. But recognition of what I am asking for. Fear to go into the shadow, into the depths of the wound. And yet I know, with her at my side, with her unconditional acceptance, that I can do this. There was a brief moment when a voice inside urged me to make open relationships a “deal breaker” and I recognize that voice to be one that is trying to protect the wounded part of me inside.
When I sit with this fear, I feel it in my solar plexus, as an almost tangible knot, blocking and protecting energy from moving up into the heart center.
I choose to enter into that fear, to move through that fear, into the depths of the heart.
So whatever you do, do it with consciousness. Whatever choice you make about how to relate, whether to be celibate, monogamous, polyamorous or any other choice, know why you are doing it. Know the difference between ego and your deeper truth. And, if you can, make the choice to “touch the secret pages of life.”
Author: Amitayus Riha
Photo: Flickr/Gareth Williams
Editor: Travis May