Flying halfway across the globe to a tropical paradise, I tended to my heart—wounded by a broken love.
What should’ve been a lighthearted, erotic adventure had gone disastrously awry. A month-long stint on an exotic island seemed like the perfect breeding ground for healing.
But, even surrounded by a vast oceanscape and lush, mountainous backdrop, my heart and mind remain unsettled—unanswered questions brimming.
A striking lady with long, blonde hair, who wore floral dresses with deep, plunging necklines, caught my attention. This woman had a fierce presence, with her big sunnies depicting the old Hollywood era. She and I hit it off immediately. I shared my enigmatic, sensual, and heartbreaking story with her.
That’s when she revealed that what I had inadvertently stumbled into was a form of consensual non-monogamy (CNM).
So that’s what I got my heart entangled in?
What was simply intended to be a fun and exciting escapade turned into a messy mix of emotions and triggers for me. I wondered if it was the catalyst for my love’s demise?
Yet, her tales didn’t make it seem like it was all that bad. Consensual non-monogamy seemed to have some noteworthy merits—freedom, fun, variety, intimacy, and sensuality.
Having returned to the states—still perplexed from my breakup—I resolved to dive into this curious, non-monogamous world with an open mind (and heart).
My biggest query of all: could a relationship evolve into a multi-partner dynamic with love still intact?
I dipped my research toes into these unknown waters full of lure, excitement, eroticism, and wonderment. But, would the potential elements of danger, darkness, and shame bite my little piggies off? It warranted further investigation.
“Consensual non-monogamy is an umbrella term describing relationships in which all parties choose, with full communication and consent, to have the option of engaging in sexual and/or romantic connections with multiple people. This can mean swinging, multi-person relationships, a “monogamish” open relationship in which two people are still each other’s primary partners, or infinite other variations.” ~ Talia Baurer, sex educator
I interviewed some daring souls who delved into the saucy bits and tasty pieces of consensual non-monogamy. Some of the interviews upheld the deviant, naughty-by-nature persona. Others revealed astonishing inclusiveness and fluidity. (*Names have been changed to protect the privacy of the participants.)
My first two interviews couldn’t have been more opposite. Charlie had bouts of threesomes in his heyday, and all were just recreational fun. Anything outside of monogamy, he proclaimed, was simply an open relationship and “there’s something missing” in the straying partner.
Fran flourished under polyamory. There’s usually a primary, followed by a third, and possibly fourth partner or more. Common within the gay community, they seemed more fluent in multi-partner relationships compared to the monogamous counterparts, thus surfing these waters a bit more artfully. There’s a sense of compersion—the feeling of joy associated with seeing a loved one love another.
It got lusty in my interview with Jess, who was part of a young couple that fantasized about having threesomes. Soon after, an opportunity struck. They created ground rules though, to ensure the safety of all involved. Nonetheless, it was addictive and all-consuming. Swinging was just as fun and “perverted,” Jess recalled. These experiences, while exciting and novel, felt too risky and dangerous to continue. Therefore, they ceased all further non-monogamous interludes to preserve their intimacy for each other.
Kerry was unbound in every way. He loved everything and everyone. Never monogamous, he didn’t believe love could be housed with just one person. Alex, another interviewee, was well-versed in multi-partner interactions. She loved her partner and had no qualms about sharing sex with others. There was an air of bonding which enveloped them, and it felt like family, she said.
After discovering such a wide array of perspectives, a sense of belonging and uncovering repressed parts of ourselves appeared to be the cornerstone of the undercurrent to expand toward these more colorful horizons.
My own experience was laced with extreme polarity—from quintessential lovemaking, to sharp pangs of jealousy and insecurity. I couldn’t make out what was just sex and what was love. For me, I felt the very real threat of my partner’s love in jeopardy. Somehow, it wasn’t just sex to me.
By navigating through psychotherapist Esther Perel’s book, The State of Affairs, I was able to land on some insights into the trials and tribulations of a multi-person dynamic and how love fits into it all.
As Perel puts it, “Successful non-monogamy means that two people straddle commitment and freedom together…the cultural shift toward more inclusive relationships is not just about expanding sexual frontiers; it’s part of a larger societal movement to reimagine what constitutes a family.”
Pascal Bruckner, the author of Paradox of Love, writes, “Freedom does not release us from responsibilities but instead increases them. It does not lighten our burden but weighs us down further. It resolves problems less than it multiplies paradoxes…the collision of autonomies threatens every modern romance, but in polyamory it can become a multi-vehicle pileup. The aftermath of rules broken, agreements unforged is nuclear in its impact reaching farther and wider than if it were a monogamous discretion.”
Ideal versus Real
Perhaps in an idyllic world, our monogamous partner would fulfill our every desire, love, and whim. Is that realistic? Or, is it unfair and unattainable? Compromise much? How do we disperse the load (pardon the pun), especially if it’s related to sexual needs?
These questions squatted in my head for so long, I was aching for some answers.
But, maybe it has nothing to do with single or multiple partners after all. It goes back to knowing ourselves and remaining present to the opportunities love has to offer: monogamous, polyamorous, open, and every other shade there is.
The spice of life lies within all of us—“uncertainties, allures, attractions and fantasies—both our own and our partners,” Perel acknowledges. To taste those aromatic flavors requires us to confront the impermanent nature of everything, especially our lovers.
If we embrace the concept that our partners are, in fact, not ours to keep then perhaps we can show up in an active and attentive way, avoiding the common pitfalls—what Perel describes as “dwindling curiosity, the flaccid engagements, the grim resignation, the desiccating routines.”
Consensual non-monogamy is certainly a viable lifestyle. Nonetheless, it is complex and like a spiderweb—the more people we include, the more widespread the challenges. It comes down to what our threshold is for such intricacies. Communication, intention, and trust are simply vital for any relationship to succeed.
After much soul contemplation, I’ve decided that I’m still monogamous at heart after all.
I appreciate what consensual non-monogamy has to offer and the potential for a wider network of love; it’s just not for me at the moment. And that’s the point: we have a choice and are subject to change.
If my life hadn’t fallen apart, I would’ve never learned how to dig myself out of my own limiting beliefs. I peered into an unfamiliar world, emerging with a greater capacity and understanding of love and how to love.
I’m nervous, yet excited to live and trust in the abundance of uncertainty—whatever shade it may be.