Once at a party, early on in a relationship, I came to my boyfriend and ask him what he thought if I would kiss another. As we were in an open relationship, it wasn’t unimaginable that I might be attracted or want to follow through on that attraction. But doing so at a party where we had come as a couple, he felt would make him highly uncomfortable.
There are no rules around open relationships, save the ones you create with one another. Through introspection he came to realise that he had associated me with his identity. What I might do, affected his sense of self. He felt diminished as I proposed kissing another, when he was around, especially in front of folk who might think badly of it. Over the months that followed, he chose to recalibrate, realised he was awesome no matter who I might kiss and we went forth to explore different boundaries around identity, exclusion and what our open relationship truly means to us.
‘I might not have done anything with anyone else yet,’ he said some months later, ‘But I’m still assuming if I met someone tomorrow, I could go home with them and I wouldn’t need to call you for permission.’
‘Right,’ I said confidently. Trusting in my own identity without him.
And now tomorrow is here. Does it make me any less of a person that he is attracted by someone else? Of course not. Do I have a kick in my gut which reminds me of that the ‘us’ we created is impermanent and ever changing? Of course. But not for the reasons I thought I would.
My policy is full disclosure. Up front, clear and unmistaken. That way there are no problems regarding consent, or perceived deception. I know the ways of the world, and still am mindful of its norms. But he says, that by being mindful of norms, I only support them. His tentatively suggested way, is to assume that our world is normal. That no woman should mind if he already has another girlfriend. And if they do, why, they aren’t the woman for him.
Whilst I see a myriad of problems with his approach, I do like it. I like the assumption that our world is normal, and that if you don’t fit in with it, then you will simply fade into obscurity – through your own volition. Yet his proposed way also implies that if me, his girlfriend, were not to come up in conversation, then he wouldn’t feel obliged to disclose it. I call it lying through omission, he calls it filtering the world so that our world, becomes truly the world we live in.
Our open relationship is normalised to some extent by me too. Those who cannot accept that fact I live with one partner and have also dated another for two years, don’t become friends with me. That’s their choice. But where dating others is concerned, consent is a double edged sword. Must you disclose the presence of a girlfriend beforehand if the other person doesn’t ask? Are we to be responsible for others’ assumptions? The text book says no.
It’s hardly likely you would remain unacknowledged he says, since we are so wrapped up in each others lives. It’s not a question of if, it’s a question of when.
And this unsettles me. The prospect that I may remain an omitted part of his life if she doesn’t care to ask. It’s none of my business. And so I feel myself recalibrating the world in a way that comforts me. Do I still want him to be part of it even if this is his way to approach new encounters? Especially as one of my fundamental needs is ‘to see and be seen’. I don’t know.
What I do know, is that no one wins at this game of life if one person loses. I feel he would lose by adhering to my approach when it is not his. And above all I trust in that. I would love it, if when I did crop up in their post coital pillow talk, she might say ‘Oh great, when can we meet?” But in the world I have known up until now, I don’t know whether that’s even possible.