‘His touch was subtle, consistent, and sure’: How one woman got pulled into the world of polyamory, with all of its pleasure and pain

·5 min read
Rachel Krantz, author of
Rachel Krantz, author of Open: An Uncensored Memoir of Love, Liberation, and Non-Monogamy. (Photo: Malika Danae)

Open: An Uncensored Memoir of Love, Liberation, and Non-Monogamy is my new book about the experience of my first open, Dom/sub, and queer relationships. In addition to being a sexy adventure, my reported memoir also explores darker themes like gaslighting and other forms of abuse. While writing Open, early readers often told me I was "brave" for being honest about my psychosexual reality. I appreciate that, but my hope is that more and more, it will be normal for women like (and unlike) me to be able to admit to the most "shocking" complexities of their inner romantic lives. Below is the first chapter, which introduces me and Adam — who form the relationship at the center of the book — on our second date.

Once Upon a Time, a Solitary Maiden Believed Only Somewhat Ironically in Being Rescued . . .

6/8/14

Rachel Journal Entry[1]

Age 26

I let her convince me to have half a carafe but no more because I knew it would lead me to cheating on [Dan]. . . I would have slept with a woman last night if not for him. . . I feel resentful of not being able to.

8/3/14

Journal Entry

I’m waiting for someone to come find me. I believe in being rescued.

2/20/15

BROOKLYN, NY

“Here,” I said, presenting the bouquet in a casual thrust. “I brought you flowers.”

“You brought me flowers?” I’d managed to disarm him, if only for a moment. I hoped the flowers would send a message: I might be twenty-seven to his thirty-eight, but I was not prey. And I had on the adult-lady-dress I’d found in a giveaway box to prove it.

“Men deserve flowers, too, you know,” I said, as if the idea hadn’t occurred to me an hour ago.

“Well, thanks. I don’t think that’s ever happened before.” Adam’s smile had a slight downward turn to it, amused in a wrung way. It was satisfying to squeeze it out of him. “I think I have a vase here somewhere . . .” I noted his back muscles through his plain white T-shirt as he reached for further proof of his civilized life. Jazz played, and I padded my stockinged feet on his spotless wooden floors as he caramelized onions. I admired titles in English and German, picked books up and put them down like a toddler-cum-anthropologist. I noted the extensive Philip Roth section, The Professor of Desire nestled between Letting Go and The Prague Orgy, the obvious fondness for Updike, Jung, Lacan, Heidegger, Yeats, Freud, and . . . Edith Wharton? At least I’ve read all the Diaz and Lahiri. I’d just broken up with Dan, a guy with neither curtains nor more than ten books—let alone a clean vase. This is progress.

Adam and I stood together in a comfortable yet sexually tense silence as he cooked.

“You know, I think the Groupon massage therapist I’ve been seeing might be molesting me?” Fuck, why did you just say that? I could blame the hit of dried-out herb I’d had before I came, but it was more than that. There was something about Adam that was like going to Jewish confession—kneeling felt imminent.

“Uh, what?” His eyebrows furrowed with concern.

“Well, he tells me to get naked, and each session he sort of inches closer and closer … Telling me to breathe deeply again and again in this pretty sexual way, kind of moaning to demonstrate. . .” Ironically, I’d treated myself to the Groupon package in the hopes that it would help me avoid making romantic decisions based solely on a hunger for touch, an investment I hoped would pay dividends tonight. “Maybe I’m imagining it? Or I’m giving him the feeling I’m into it, you know? Which in a way I am, until he pushes it too far and I keep pulling away, but then he just does it again . . .” Why are you telling him this? “I don’t know, what do you think?”

“I think it sounds like you need a new masseur.” Adam had a definitive way of closing conversations I already found comforting.

Dinner was skillfully done but watching him lick rolling paper for dessert was my preferred pornography. His academic research, he told me as I inhaled, was mainly about the psychology of romantic and sexual desire—specifically, the importance of triangulation.

“Like, there being three people?” I asked.

“Often, yes. It’s one of the most common stories, the love triangle. The Unbearable Lightness of Being, Lolita, The Age of Innocence . . .” Twilight, I mentally added. The Hunger Games. “But triangulation is also sometimes just an outside obstacle, maybe not even a person. A war, or distance.”

“I wonder if that’s one subconscious reason people have children,” I tried. “To create a safer form of triangulation than another lover, a constant obstacle to being alone together.”

“Desire can be understood as a feeling of lack,” he said, nodding professorially. “If we believe we have someone in every single way, we usually cease to want them sexually.”

“Seems accurate, but a little sad, too, no?”

“No, it’s not. It’s like physics. Knowing how things work only makes them more beautiful.” He held my gaze with meaning. “I study what’s most important to me. How I might maintain desire. Not just for me, but for my long-term partner.” I nodded; lesson absorbed. I had to admit, I could hardly imagine a topic I’d rather a lover devote their life to studying. My legs were tucked sidesaddle on his wonderfully clean couch. He paused to acknowledge the flesh encased in black tights. “Since your feet are right here and you mentioned earlier you like massage, I’d be happy to work on them for you.” Bold move after my story, and kind of a tone-deaf one? But, I mean, does sound nice . . . just do what you want to do, but don’t think that means you owe him anything. You’re a grown woman tonight. I’d promised myself that this evening was about ushering in a new era of Adult Dating. I would no longer feel I owed a certain debt if I received “too much,” or placed myself “too deep” into a situation. I would do whatever I wanted and nothing more (or less?)— without judgment.

“Okay, sure. Why not,” I said, offering my legs toward him like a second bouquet of flower stems.

Adam’s touch was subtle, consistent, and sure. An exercise in paying attention to what I wanted and taking not a centimeter more, promising me something attuned, patient, giving. His voice deep and at moments gravelly, his highly grabbable biceps flexing as he continued to steer our conversation, my body the clutch. He had a focus more intense than any I’d felt directed at me before. Not even by a therapist, much less a man I found sexy. As he massaged, he kept asking more and more questions, interviewing me as he had on our first date. It was as if he had to get down to the root of me deeply, thoroughly, urgently. Like there was no more pressing subject.

[1]All primary sources (journal entries, emails, text messages, recorded transcripts) are depicted verbatim. Ellipses indicate where words have been cut; bracketed words are added for clarity.

Excerpted from OPEN copyright © 2022 by Rachel Krantz. Used by permission of Harmony Books, an imprint of Random House, a division of Penguin Random House LLC, New York. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.