The Healthiest Relationship I’ve ever had was Non-Monogamous.
That’s because it’s the only relationship that didn’t begin with me going batsh*t crazy and immediately obsessing about her.
The context of non-monogamy did not trigger my usual out-of-control infatuation response. We both entered into the interaction with no expectations for it to be anything more than it was, so no one was ever disappointed or hurt.
It was my first (and thus far only) foray into non-monogamy. My only previous “experience” was reading two books on the topic. The main message I took away from the books was that the key to successful non-monogamy is establishing super healthy relationships based on a crystal clear awareness of one’s needs and the ability to transparently express those needs. It was the most useful advice I’ve ever read about any kind of relationship.
So, from the start, this interaction was full of open, honest communication.
She was married, with four children, and newly exploring non-monogamy after her husband unilaterally announced he was polyamorous and could no longer live in monogamy. She had been in therapy for many months, discussing all the ins and outs of this new arrangement, so she was in a healthy, self-aware space when we started talking.
We met online, and after a couple weeks of texts and calls, I visited her hometown, about four hours away. She was clear that sex would not be happening on this first visit, and I was fine with that—just one example of upfront communication and clear boundaries.
The fact that she was married and living with her family somehow prevented my brain from going into obsession mode. I knew this interaction would be limited, it could not become the grand, epic, love story that my mind typically fabricates around a new potential romantic interest.
Consequently, I did not overinvest emotionally like I usually do.
Neither of us was looking for the other to fill any kind of hole. As she put it, she was just hoping to meet people to bring more love into her life. So when we met, it was a low-pressure situation, with none of the usual tittering thoughts skittering in and out of my consciousness about the “One” or “This Is It.”
The first evening I arrived in town, we met at a botanical garden for a walk at sunset, followed by a hard cider at a nearby pub. We talked easily and enjoyed each other’s company, eschewing mindless small talk and jumping into the deep conversations both of us found meaningful, about life, relationships, childhood trauma, etcetera—pure Elephant fodder.
The next day, she carved out a couple of hours of free time and came to my Airbnb to do yoga. Then after a brief discussion to clearly define boundaries, we cuddled on the loveseat and continued our heartfelt conversation. It was deeply fulfilling for me, feeling the warmth of her body pressed against my side, my arm draped across her shoulders, caressing her arm as we shared vulnerabilities.
And when she left to return to her family, I was fine with it, almost oddly so. I wasn’t sure how I would deal with feelings of jealousy, but for some reason, knowing the situation from the beginning and having realistic expectations around it made it all okay.
We met once again for more cuddling and conversation, and then, I returned home. We stayed in touch, but she got busy as her kids returned to school, and then I moved across the country, so we never saw each other again.
But to this day, I look back on that experience with nothing but positive feelings. I think we were both seeking a similar type of emotional connection, and that allowed us to simply enjoy each other’s company and then part ways. No one was heartbroken. It was beautiful.
I was content, I was composed, and I didn’t lose myself.
In contrast, whenever the slightest hint of a monogamous relationship flits into the realm of possibility, my mind immediately creates an epic love story around it as I begin imagining our future together. This either leads to love-bombing infatuation and eventual avoidance or immediately turns into insecure anxiety on my part if the woman doesn’t reciprocate the feelings.
When we concoct a grandiose love story around a relationship, we immediately doom it with fanciful expectations. We’re no longer able to experience it in the present moment and allow it to naturally unfold—because we’re focused on making it last forever. We’re unable to simply enjoy the interaction as it is because we’re imagining what it might be.
Down that path lies madness.
We overinvest emotionally, inflating the interaction with starry-eyed meaning, and then we’re devastated when it doesn’t live up to the unrealistic fantasy we created in our heads. We fixate on one particular outcome, and anything that doesn’t match that outcome is a letdown.
For most of us, monogamy is built on the assumption that the relationship will last the rest of our lives, and if it doesn’t, it’s a failure, a disappointment.
Non-monogamy taught me an alternate assumption: that the relationship will last as long as it should. I don’t know if non-monogamy is actually the answer for me, I imagine it brings with it a host of other complications, but I think this principle of remaining open to whatever outcome naturally develops is essential for any relationship.
Then we can just be ourselves and allow the other person to be themself, and see if the two selves enjoy each other’s presence. Instead of projecting into the future and writing the story of our lives together, we can remain mindfully in the moment, permitting the interaction to develop into whatever it is supposed to be: a friendship, a love affair, or maybe a long-term partner—simply accepting whatever naturally arises.
Down that path lies contentment.
This experiment in non-monogamy showed me that I have within me the capacity to approach a relationship in a healthy, realistic manner. And if it’s buried within me, with all my relationship insanity (which I wrote about here, here, and especially here), then it’s gotta be present within all of us.
We just need to change the assumptions underlying our concept of a relationship, to let go of the need for the relationship to last forever, and instead allow it to naturally develop.
A relationship like this is not going to look like the movies or sound like our favorite love songs, but it just might be healthy and nourishing.