I never back down from a challenge and I never renege on a promise. When I first introduced this column, I wanted it to be a collaborative journey in the exploration of sexuality; to talk openly about the issues that you, my sexy little readers, popularized through your correspondence.
To say that the responses were overwhelming would be an understatement. I celebrated with a victory dance in Whole Foods yesterday, if you’d like to know the real truth. It really excites me that we get to explore our unanswered questions together so I went through every one of yours with a fine-toothed comb, and I was surprised to learn that a vast majority of you want to explore the topic of open relationships. Quite apropos given our new status, wouldn’t you say?
In all honesty, it's been a while since I've contemplated the concept. Being open has never been something that I've had a strong desire to explore in my past relationships, despite my own trip or two down threesome lane. The first time I broached the topic in any real way was with my friend Pascal a couple years ago. Beyond admitting to him that it could never work for me, I also told him I thought his open partnership was doomed to fail (something I regret to admit now). Let me give you some backstory.
I met Pascal in the way that I have been lucky enough to meet so many of you: through a mutual friend, in another country, and with a pre-determined appreciation for him as an artist. In typical Caroline fashion, it didn’t take long for me to pry into his private life-I asked him with the most sincere interest if he was in love. His response was beautiful, albeit new to me. He began musing of his open relationship with his partner, Susi. I couldn’t wrap my head around it. The idea of someone I loved sharing their intimacy with another was more than I thought I could ever handle, and truthfully I had no interest in sharing myself with another person outside of my relationship either. All in all, it seemed selfish. It felt cold. And-in the idea of the concept-I lost sight of the love.
While reading your emails, I keep returning to that day with Pascal, in Switzerland, drinking wine, sketching each other (his, a two-minute masterpiece; mine, horrific), and contemplating his love without the ability to fully understand. One particular email, however, stood out to me. A note from Chelsea spoke of her and her partner’s interest of going down a similar path, except in her thoughts she bullet-pointed all the rules that she and her man would put into place in an effort to exempt themselves from pain (including but not limited to: no hookups with exes, no emotional connections, nothing premeditated, always three degrees of separation, no phone numbers, etc). I didn’t remember Pascal talking about these distinctions. Was this the way it worked? I knew I needed to delve deeper.
Next I reached out to Dr. Snyder, a respected sex therapist and friend who I knew was much more knowledgeable on the subject than I am. We spoke for much longer than this column allows me to explore for now, but there was one umbrella theme that helped me better to understand what I was now more confused about than ever. It seems that most open relationship couples fall-with their specific exceptions, of course-under the categories of “rules” or “no rules.” This may sound strange (as the concept of an open relationship is seemingly boundless in its very nature) however, it speaks more to the couple’s desired approach to respecting one each other within the confines of their journey with openness. The most important thing to remember, as the good doctor pointed out, is that whichever way you decide to approach it, it should be clear that both parties are willing participants in the open relationship with similar, if not identical expectations.
At this point I knew I needed to reconnect with Pascal. We never lost touch, really, (in fact he just finished a beautiful painting of me), but we also hadn’t picked back up on the subject of open relationships in a long time. Just as I remembered, Pascal and Susi were still thriving in a “no rule” kind of open relationship. He told me that the very first rule to making open relationships work is to make sure you alert the other person of your preference as soon as possible-no pussy-footing around! He mentioned that this can be particularly challenging for women, because, of course there is a stigma here that women who are into open relationships could be considered slutty (which he obviously thinks is ridiculous, and so do I).
Next, you have to be absolutely sure the other person is equally down. This is very important. You can’t have an open relationship just to please the other person, or as a band-aid for a failing relationship-it will not end well. Pascal and Susi are completely honest with each other, and both extremely satisfied. They live by the credo that life is very short so why not explore all that you can? Safely and honestly, of course. Sexual urges are natural and don’t often have anything to do with love, so why be forced to do them in secret? Pascal and Susi don’t see the point in feeling erotic pleasure with just one person. He explained to me that his distinction between two basic forms of sexuality is as follows: sex-with-love-involved and sex-without-love-involved. Both are valid. They value the ability to experience and enjoy both these forms in their own way. If one of them feels the sexual urge to kiss or fuck another, they let each other know as soon as possible. This can be spontaneous (heck, a full moon makes us all a little crazy) in which they tell each other ASAP after the fact, or it could take the shape of a date, planned out, and discussed between them beforehand. That’s when I butted in. “Ok, ok, so you’re super in love, but what happens when she tells you she fucked someone else? You don’t feel angry, not even a little bit?”
It was then that Pascal answered me with what I consider to be one of the most romantic things I’ve ever heard: He said that he has learned to regard jealousy as a construct of his feelings rather than an emotion. This is important to him, because constructs can be deconstructed. He continued: "Whenever I’m haunted by jealousy I start to ask myself what exactly makes me feel so bad about [for example] Susi kissing, touching, fucking, etc. with a very well-built dude. Why would I feel threatened by this? Because I’m skinny? Because I’m Susi’s everyday life and not quite so exciting anymore? What I should actually realize is how she wishes to share the really intimate things in life with me exclusively. The sweet names, the not-being-cool moments, the stinky toilet, etc. She’s so clear about wanting to grow old (or stay young forever) with me, that I’ve got no reason to doubt or panic. Instead, I can be happy for her to attract also the super good-looking guys, to enjoy their compliments, and to sometimes go all the way. Sexuality, however, is rather an animalistic thing. An urge, a matter of chemistry surely, but not necessarily an outing of love and understanding. And by the way, ‘my heart is more loyal than my penis.’”
Pascal showed me that he values the very things I do in a relationship, which are transparency and honesty. This whole open relationship thing can be much more romantic than I thought. So to my wise and talented pal Pascal, I’d like to blame the brutal altitude in Basel for my initial rash decision-making about your personal life a couple years ago. I now see that this way of loving and living in an open relationship can be just as romantic, if not more, than some couples who choose to only be intimate with each other. So just as you drew that two minute masterpiece of me and only got a crummy drawing of yourself in return, I hope I can offer you something a bit more meaningful in my revelations here today.