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A second relationship

Last time I wrote a fairly generic update, this time I’d like to explore the issues around starting a second romantic relationship in greater detail.
 
When two people get together in more typical circumstances, they spend a while talking and dating and see how things go. They probably move from spending time together having a meal, going to see a film etc to more casual, more intimate time, curling up on the sofa and talking, going for walks, whatever floats their boats.
 
When you’re already in a relationship, you need to negotiate with your partners about what’s ok. It feels to me like this negotiation means you have to choose what you’re negotiating for. Are you asking your current partner whether it’s ok to just have socks with this new person or are you saying you want a more involved longer term relationship. It’s not that you can’t say “I want to explore this and see where it goes” but that’s harder because it creates uncertainty and the poly people  I know say they feel least threatened by a new partner when they know what’s gong on and what everyone’s expectations are.
 
This is the position I’m in currently. There is a new person I’m interested in, Lee. Lee has a partner who he needs to discuss things with. Unfortunately life, as usual, is complex and Lee’s partner Linda is currently out of the country to be with a very good friend of hers who is dying. Lee doesn’t want to discuss this with her until she’s back. I understand this, and I think I’d feel the same, but it leaves me in the awkward position of waiting for  someone else to have a conversation so I know where I stand.
 
Since I first told Lee that I was interested, I’ve spoken to him more, spent a little more time with him. I think he’s amazing. I know now that I want to explore something more than just sex. I don’t know how much more yet, because in some ways I’m very much still getting to know him, but the feeling is there. I’ve not yet told Lee how I feel so I don’t know exactly what he’s going to talk to Linda about. And I know I need to tackle this but I also feel I need to give Lee the room to be supportive to Linda in what must be a very difficult time for her.
 
A second problem is the mental habit that starting a new relationship means ending an old one. I’m incredibly happy that I don’t have to do this – I can have my cake and eat it – but I keep finding myself mentally comparing them. In what ways are they each better than the other? As though I have to make a choice. It infuriates me that I keep doing this even though I’ve thought it through and there’s no problem, I don’t have to worry about this, but it keeps popping in to my head unbidden. Is this unavoidable? Do we always compare new people to people we already know? Our new partners to our previous partners? I have no idea, I just hope that by keep reminding myself that I don’t need to think that way anymore that eventually I’ll stop doing it.

Thoughts Updated

So it’s been a few weeks since I wrote anything. I know,  I’m am a bad blogger.

 

What has been going on in the world of my newly opened relationship you might very well ask. Well . . .

 

So we continued working through the exercises in the ethical slut. These have really really helped. Largely by getting us in to the habit of talking about things, whether they’re big or little. I wouldn’t say they’re perfect. We still squabble a little and in the first few weeks had some fairly major blow-ups as we both tried to shift to this new way of thinking. I’ll be honest and say I that I think David has had much more to change than I have, but I’ve also learned things. Some of it I already knew but wasn’t very good at putting in to practice. Some of it is completely revolutionary.

 

Example: I already knew that I should describe my feelings using “I” statements. “I feel angry that you didn’t discuss that with me.” Rather than “You’re so insensitive, why didn’t you discuss that with me?” But what I hadn’t really understood previously is the reasoning behind that. It’s about taking responsibility for your emotions. No-one makes you feel angry, you have a choice whether you feel angry at their actions. To say that someone else made you feel something is disempowering and you deny yourself the opportunity to change how you feel and be happier.

 

Two weeks ago (and it seems far longer than that) I went to see my friend Rob in Bristol. Rob and I used to date several years ago, we were both doing the open thing, there wasn’t really any commitment, but when he happened to be in Manchester we’d meet up. David and I discussed it all, we agreed I was fine to play with rob or anyone else at his party and off I went. I was planning on coming back on the Saturday but got a message from another friend Lee saying he was unexpectedly at home that weekend and did I want to pop over to Bath while I was in that neck of the woods and see him. I spent the Saturday afternoon and evening in the pub with him and his two awesome housemates.

 

As the evening wore on and Lee and I got progressively more drunk, it started to seem like a good idea to just come out and tell Lee that I have had a crush on him for months. I eventually plucked up the courage as we were walking back to his (the housemates having left us earlier) and to my entire shock, he turned round and said he found me very attractive and I was “awesome to talk to”, which I count as a real compliment. Some rather chaste kissing followed, then and on Sunday afternoon before I came home and we left it that he and I would both speak to our respective partners about working out what was ok and would work given our busy schedules and geographic separation.

 

David was initially a little thrown by it, but he’s come round to the idea. I raised the question of polyamory vs open relationship. Loosely I’d say the difference is with an open relationship you can sleep with other people but have no real attachment outside of the relationship and with polyamory you have multiple loving relationships which may be of different intensities. David said that he was only really interested in an open relationship and wasn’t comfortable with the idea of multiple relationships. We did however agree on a set of behaviours which we were both happy with.

 

Since then things have changed a bit, largely due to us going to a kink play party last weekend. Early on in the afternoon David and I both played with a girl called Nic, she and I went down on eachother, then David had sex with her. Later on David went had sex with a girl called Sarah. Since then they’ve been texting and seem to be getting on fairly well. The two experiences have led to David changing his mind on polyamory. He’s decided that he doesn’t really fancy emotionless sex and would prefer to do things with people he actually cares about. Which suits me because I feel similar. Now he’s even talking about going for dinner with Sarah and I think I’m ok with that. I may have to find someone to go for dinner with myself 😀

David and I have been plodding on with trying to make this work. Trying to fix the communication problems, his inability to just tell me what’s on his mind.

Last night I cooked dinner then went out to go to the first class of a weight loss programme I’ve started. That was the last meal I’ll be cooking in some time so I cooked for both of us. When I got back I found that David had gone out without doing anything about cleaning up. Trying to remember the things we’ve been learning about communication, owning your emotions, not blaming, I tried to explain without any anger what I would like to happen. I.e. that he tidy up after himself and not just leave dishes on the side.

He did not react well to this, maybe not as badly as he might have done previously, but it was the same old irritation, the hostility. I asked whether there was anything wrong and he said no.

This evening he came home not in a great mood and made passive aggressive comments about the fact I’d loaded the dishwasher and left the clean plates on the worktop. I tried to explain my reasoning, that I was trying to avoid falling in to my old habit of just doing it all, hut he still seemed irritated.

So I left it a while, then wandered over to him and was going to say that I thought we should start the evening over with a hug. I got as far as “David?” And got snapped at again. So I left the room.

I don’t see what I’m doing wrong and if it’s something else that has irritated him then I wish he’d just say. I can’t stand all this macho “there’s nothing wrong” shit.

Is it because the dishwasher is an old argument so brings back former ways of behaving? Is it just an inevitable stumble on the road to being more open emotionally more of the time?

It’s so disheartening . . . I know it probably won’t be easy but I still find myself wishing it was.

The five Ws

I’ve been asked for a little more detail about me, and like most people I’m always flattered to be asked about myself so here goes:

I’m a 27 year old woman who works in project management. I’m British, though I lived abroad for a few years, and I have a fairly wide range of eclectic hobbies. I like sewing and knitting, I play the flute, though nowadays nowhere near as often as I should – I’m getting rusty. I used to re-enact but have been lured away by prettier costume and more mythical creatures and now I LARP regularly. I blame David for this, if we’d never met, I’d never have even considered larping, I used to think it was far too geeky for me!

David and I met when was between my Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees. Both of these are in history which is unrelated to most of the subjects I studied in school or my current employment but makes me happy, which is all that matters.

I’m bisexual and have considered myself so since I was about 14, which to be honest was the first time I really thought about labels like that. Looking back now, I’d had thoughts about girls for as long as I’d been thinking about anything like that and it was only getting old enough to know that there are labels that made me realise which one applied to me.

I’m out with friends and at work but my mum is a little conservative on somethings (particularly homosexuality) and as no relationship I’ve had with a woman has lasted more than six months and none that were more than a fling were while I was still living at home, I’ve always avoided stating it explicitly. To be fair to myself, I haven’t lied either, for a while I was seeing a girl called Jane and when I met up with her, if mum asked what I’d been doing I’d say I’d seen her just as I would any other friend. I think largely it’s that my mum and I don’t really discuss sex so it’s hard to know where to start. Quite possibly if I bothered to do it it would be a huge anticlimax, I’m sure she’d still love me, I’m fairly sure it would only make things awkward for a while but when you’re in a monogamous relationship with a man why confuse things by saying “by the way I like girls too?”

Ofcourse the above is no longer true and one of the things I’ve decided over the last few weeks is that when David and I have sorted ourselves out, I’m going to be entirely honest with my family. I know my parents briefly tried swinging before their marriage collapsed so they can’t be that judgemental can they?

I like blues and jazz and folk music as well as rock and metal and EBM. I don’t like comedy films, and I love trying different foods.

David is two years older than me and works as a Business Analyst. He was in a very long relationship before we met which had started in his mid teens and ended a week before the wedding. He larps, plays games, runs and likes the kind of whiny rock which infuriates me and punk – how can anyone like punk!

We live in Manchester, which is a good place to be for more alternative lifestyles. A fair number of our friends have some amount of openness in their relationships and a good few like some kink thrown in to the mix.

That’s about all for now. If you have any questions, please ask, I may even add the answers to the bottom of this post.

Last night

Yesterday, David and I both read the first chapter or two of The Ethical Slut and decided to do the first exercise in it which was to list all the people you can think of who are non-monogamous, be they a friend, acquaintance, famous or fictional person, then list the positive and negative things you think of in relation to their non-monogamy. As we’d agreed to do them together, we then discussed the people we’d written down.

The first interesting point was how we wrote our thoughts down. I listed the person and then wrote next to them the thoughts which sprung to mind. David wrote people down mostly in pairs and didn’t write down his thoughts as he said he might as well just say it as we discussed them. His list was also longer than mine which really interests me as I’m the one who has experience of open relationships. Most of the people on his list are people I know, but I wonder if to me they’re less noticeable because I don’t consider them different?

There were two exes of mine cropped up between our two lists, plus my parents, several friends and a few famous people, I was rubbish with famous people as I don’t pay attention to the kind of news where their relationships get discussed.

The discussion largely focused around a few points which kept cropping up with a reassuring regularity. On the positive side they were honesty, confidence, and balance, on the negative, jealously/envy and self-esteem issues.

Honesty seemed the biggest point. Honesty both within the relationship and frankness with those outside of it. Those who are more honest and better communicators seem to have fewer problems with jealousy and envy and resolve them quicker when they occur. By being honest with people you meet about your relationship being open, they know that if they’re interested in a more intimate connection, the answer won’t automatically be no, which probably makes the chance of being able to act on and enjoy your openness far higher. Probably most important in honesty with yourself about why you’re doing it and what you want out of it, which ties in to the negative point about self-esteem below.

The happier open couples we know all have a feeling of confidence about their relationship, which is based on trust, supported by honesty. They have the ability to tell people what they want in a manner that isn’t aggressive or threatening but is clear.

Balance seems vital. Mental balance, in that if you aren’t a calmer happier person you have healthier relationships. The balancing act between the demands of the live-in partner and the play partner and between your need to satisfy your own desires versus those of the people around you.

Much like the positive points, the negatives seem to me to be linked. Jealousy/envy – I’ve listed both because as David frequently reminds me, they’re not the same. You guard what you have with Jealousy and you envy what others have. Both of these seem to cause problems for non-monogamous people. They can be envious of how much sex their partner or other poly people are getting, they can be jealous of the time spent with their partner and not be willing to let go enough to allow their partner the freedom to meet others and experiment.

Self-esteem issues crop up in a few ways. They can be a cause of Jealousy and anxiety, where a person worries that their partner will like other people more than them. We are also fairly sure that one of our named people sleeps with so many people at least in part to prove to himself that he is attractive and desired. I think that a responsible poly person should probably take a long hard look inside themselves and work out why they want what they do and the effects that is going to have. Needing support is part of being human but if you need a crutch, you should probably work out why rather than involving and potentially hurting other people.

Overall the conversation left me with a slightly unsatisfied feeling. I know we’ve got so many things to work through and I just want to get on with it so that everything can be fine again and this felt like on dipping a toe in the water. What I have to remember is that I have already had open relationships. This concept is nowhere near as scary for me as it is for David and taking things slowly and doing lots of talking is probably the only way to open a relationship without more than the minimum of pain and angst. I’m really pleased that we talked though, there was no arguing, I think we both listened to each-other quite well. (We’ve both been guilty of not really listening at times, just waiting for the other person to stop speaking so that we start)

I have already made the decision that I value this relationship enough to work through this and support David while we try this awfully scary but hopefully rewarding thing. I need to remember that different people learn at different speeds and some of us have a long way to go and have the patience to go at the right speed.

As a final note, I’ve been asked for a bit more info on what we’re like, and I promise that post is on it’s way, I just wanted to get this off my chest first.

Background

Several years ago I was in an open relationship with a chap called Richard. The relationship was open at my insistence and probably for the wrong reasons. My reasons being I wasn’t really interested enough to tie myself down to one person. I’m fairly certain his reasons were because it was the only option I gave and he decided he’d rather have that then remain Just Good Friends.

This variably happy state of affairs persisted for a few months until a planned move across the country pushed me to make the decision I’d been putting off for some time and end it.

Unsurprisingly it went badly, we fell out, several years of friendship ended rather abruptly.

A little while later I met my current partner, David. After a few false starts, we got together and as he didn’t seem willing to consider anything else, we agreed it would be monogamous. I’m aware some of you will think “how can you agree when he only gave you one option?” – simple, I could have said no and gone on my merry way, continued being single and presumably found someone else eventually. However I liked him enough to think that that was reasonable and that I could be happy with it.

We plodded along like this for about three years with no real hiccoughs. Apart from the time we had some fun with a couple we’re friends with and another girl who was staying with them at the time. But that’s ok right? because we were both there, and it’s a lot easier to trust someone when you can see what they’re doing.

Coming up to two years ago we were at a party and I kissed a girl and I liked it. (No surprise for me there :D) David was a little uncomfortable but after a little shouting and a lot of talking it turned out he was fine. We agreed that I could do what I liked with other women, whether he was there or not and he seemed genuinely cool with this. About a year ago we had a threesome with the same girl and again all was fine.

And then I read an article on unicorn hunting. If you haven’t heard a the turn, it’s used in polyamorous circles to describe a couple where he is straight and she is bi who are looking for a bisexual woman who wants to sleep with both of them. The article discussed how unrealistic this is and how it places so many demands on the mythical third person and is generally unfair, unrealistic and is only pretending to be an open relationship. A “one penis policy”.

Monogamy is a funny thing. So many people place so much importance in it, but I’m not I’ve ever really believed that it was the sole route to happiness and the only legitimate way for people to have an adult relationship. Any relationship involves compromise, however the amount of compromise varies and I’ve always found it slightly odd that so many straight men (including several I’ve dated) are happy for their bisexual girlfriends to fuck other women. I’ve taken advantage of the situation and have slept with women while in a “closed” relationship and my partner was happy. I just turned a blind eye to the inconsistency.

I imagine that as a man with a bisexual girlfriend, it’s so much less threatening for her to have sex with a woman. There’s no sense of your her getting something you can’t give her, it’s understandable that if she’s attracted to both genders, she wants to scratch that itch sometimes. I gather there are quite a few relationships out there like this.

I think this goes straight to many of the fears that people have about an open relationship. That your partner will be better satisfied elsewhere, or will just meet someone they like more. My response is does this ever stop people in monogamous relationships from cheating? From meeting someone else if they’re unhappy? No, of course it doesn’t, it just means that it’s all done behind their partner’s back and everyone feels so much more hurt when the relationship breaks down.

So back to me and David.

The article led me to thinking that really I had a problem with our “one penis policy”. It contains the implicit belief that one kind of sexual expression is less threatening than another, it led to the worry that this might mean “less valid” and really that I was tired of compromising my views on sexuality, feeling resentful about it but getting the vague feeling that I was in the wrong.

So I did what I usually do in a difficult situation and I blurted out precisely what I was thinking without really pausing to consider the consequences. There were arguments, there were tears, and, very suddenly, David said that I was right. I was so shocked by this sudden shift that I struggled to believe it was real. We agreed are relationship would be open, but then we both left the subject alone. On my part for fear of more extremely upsetting conversations.

This was a few months ago and two weeks ago we were away with some friends. I was flirting quite a bit with Lee and this was apparently making David uncomfortable. I realised because he was grumpy and surly with me until I correctly guessed what had upset him. Talking about things has never been one of David’s strong points and I’ve joked more than once about situations where he is in a foul mood, I ask him what’s wrong, he says nothing and then a few hours later admits there is something wrong and then we actually talk about it. The amount of time it takes him to come round to telling me has improved over our relationship but it still happens.

So we talked. Again. About how there’s nothing to fear and no reason to be jealous, it changes nothing in terms of how I feel for David and that I passionately believe that it can work.

I was left with this horrendous helpless feeling that I believed in the things I was saying but that I was creating a rift between us which couldn’t be fixed. That eventually David would decide he couldn’t handle the things I was asking of him and he’d leave. Or I’d get so sick of the rows and the tears and pain that I’d leave. I began to resign myself to it ending.

And then David told me that he’d contacted some polyamorous friends for advice and bought a copy of The Ethical Slut. It didn’t change how I felt overnight but over this weekend it’s been sinking in and I started feeling really hopeful. I read the first chapter of the ethical slut today and we’ve agreed we’re gong to read through it and discuss the things it suggests discussing. David’s also going to write down the thoughts he has that he finds too difficult to initiate discussion about and let me read them. It feels like a start.

Intro

This blog charts my and my partner’s attempt to open up our relationship.

We’ve been together for almost five years and the majority of that has been monogamous (though not entirely – more on that to follow) but we have recently decided that we want and need to change this.

I thought it would be helpful to me, and interesting to other people, to write about it as it goes.

Please comment, it always good to hear others’ thoughts, especially when expressed politely.