A TBS reader discusses the problems he faced when feelings of jealousy and betrayal crept into his open relationship.
I had never been a jealous person, so open relationships found me, and I had experienced a few. My current girlfriend and I entered our relationship on the same page, with a lack of pretence, clear with our goals. While we were together, we were by no means exclusive.
The rules were simple. If we wanted to sleep with someone else, the other party had to agree. If they didn’t, we didn’t.
When it did happen, it was never anything beyond curiosity. We’d discuss it in passing, in the same way as a movie we’d seen. “How was it?” The act didn’t seem to matter. Those days slipped past, and as they left, we stuck together, and out of that mutual respect we somehow became important. We never discussed the change out loud, as we had already decided on a lack of labels. Pressing the point always seemed to be the wrong move. One of us would half-discuss it, before either of us whitewashed the issue. We had both seen what labels had done to those we cared for in the past, and remembered when the same pain was visited upon us.
We decided we didn’t need them, we were different.
I’ve since discovered there are many types of “different.” Starting off, as far as most people are concerned, we were that. Different. We wore it proudly. Things are different between us now, but on the surface, things look the same.
The difference in sex was one of the first things I noticed. Those who I slept with outside the relationship suddenly seemed empty. The act was immediately followed with a feeling of guilt. So I quietly stopped looking elsewhere. When she asked why I was no longer going out, I avoided the question. I hoped that she’d sense my reticence to continue with the agreement, but she didn’t.
Every time she asks for permission, it cuts me deeper. Where I once felt indifference, I feel betrayal and jealousy to have her in the hands of someone else. Those nights when she leaves, I immediately make plans for the night. Elsewhere. I can’t look at her the same way. These issues manifest in different ways. In the weeks following, I find it difficult to be intimate with her or continue with our normative behaviour. I distance myself from her and won’t tell her why. There’s a part of me that thinks because she knows me best, but can’t identify the problem, I don’t feel like she deserves an explanation.
When I’m weak, we argue. About our finances, about where she’s going with her career. Things I never thought I’d hear myself say. I’m not proud of it, but I can’t bring myself into voicing the issue I have, for risk of pushing her away. But in the same instance, I can’t leave it, because unchecked, I know this issue risks what we have. We originally set out to “have fun” and worry about the rest later; it is no longer fun. Change is needed, but that change carries a much less controllable risk than we have now.