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» Scarleteen Boards: 2000 - 2014 (Archive) » SCARLETEEN CENTRAL » Sexual Ethics and Politics » Open Door Policies

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Author Topic: Open Door Policies
Heather
Executive Director & Founder
Member # 3

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At our last staff meeting, I talked a lot with the volunteers about they and I being sure to be transparent with all of you. In other words, it can be pretty easy to think any of us have it all figured out, especially if -- with boundaries that are sound and don't leave any of you feeling dumped on -- we don't let you in on some of our own challenges so you can see that, nope, there's not a one of us in this word who has it all together or knows exactly what they're doing.

With that in mind, I thought it might be helpful to some of you who might find yourself in a similar (well, kind of, but I'll get to that) spot I'm in right now to know what's going on with me, talk about how we all think about the thing that is opening up relationships: working a model in which a given romantic or sexual relationship is not romantically or sexually exclusive/monogamous.

My situation right now -- which is very complex, and I'm only to go into so much depth with both to keep you from falling asleep, and because I'm a very visible person and privacy is an issue, especially since this isn't just about me -- is that my partner of nearing four years (who I have lived with for almost three) and I have just opened up our relationship, both sexually and romantically.

In terms of what he wants, that means occasional dates and possible sexual hookups. He has not been on any yet, so there is really no telling with whom, or if any of those dates would result in relationships he wants to be more than one-shot deals. In terms of what I want -- and this is likely the part where, to some degree, you just may not find yourself in this situation, given my age -- it's about creating a new romantic and sexual (but more romantic than sexual, really) relationship with someone who was my partner almost twenty years ago.

Now, I walk into this with a few bonuses and what we call protective factors here in the sexual health world. For starters, my partner and I have been on the same page since we first started dating that at some point, one or both of us was likely to want to open the relationship, so this is hardly new or shocking. More than once over the years, we have discussed doing this, but until now, decided the time wasn't right, either because we were dealing with some conflict, one or both of us felt insecure about it, what have you. I also have the benefit of having been in open relationships of various types before, and, per the work I do and the communities I am around, the benefit of being very familiar with the pros and cons, with possible conflicts, with some basics about what tends to work and what doesn't, and a lot of knowledge of how to negotiate all of this stuff. I have also watched several friends in my life manage (or not) open or polyamorous relationships.

So, we knew what to talk about, we'd been together long enough and are committed enough to know we're solid, and we've known each other long enough to know one another very well at this point. It also helps that the person I will probably be getting involved with is very well known to me, and my current partner knows our history, how we have been together, the dynamics we have. Suffice it to say, the mere fact that I have been able to be very honest with both of them, and that both respect my feelings for the other tremendously makes a big difference, and I'm inclined to say our ages -- 36, 38, 40 -- help in our management of this and our views of it.

So, this is me, kind of standing at the precipice. We've just gotten to the point where we've all finished our negotiating on this, laying down the rules, regs and boundaries, and are now looking forward to seeing how things are going to go. In other words, we're kind of all dressed up, but not going anywhere just yet, exactly (I did see my ex last week, but that was primarily to talk about all of this and see where we were even at more than anything else).

So, anyone else doing something like this, considering this, wanting this, having a partner who wants this, knowing a friend doing something like this? Want to talk about it, or want some help or information?

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Heather Corinna, Executive Director & Founder, Scarleteen
About Me • Get our book!
Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has. - Margaret Mead

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bluejumprope
Scarleteen Volunteer
Member # 40774

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I've been in an open relationship for the last two and a half years. It's a little bit hard to separate our non-monogamy from our whole relationship structure.

For the sake of convenience, I usually use the word "partner" or "girlfriend" when talking about the woman I'm in an open relationship with, but "companion" feels more accurate. In some ways, "family" and "best friend" are also the right words. We're not sexually oriented towards each other (though our relationship began that way), but we are deeply committed, caring and interested in each other and in many ways excited by each other. There's an intense sense of rightness, security, intimacy, exploration and companionship between us, and we're very physically affectionate. We live together, usually sleep in the same bed together, and for now at least, feel primarily bonded to each other.

Right now in my relationship: on my partner's side, non-monogamy means she's open to having a romantic partner. For me it means casual dating and sexual activity. The integrity of our relationship is always the priority, so when I'm with a new person we make agreements for each situation to make sure we're protected emotionally. The nature of our relationship is pretty flexible. There's a big age difference between me and my partner (15 years) so we're very aware of the ways in which we don't meet each others needs, and that awareness has also made it easier to get our needs met elsewhere.

I've been averse to monogamy for as long as I can remember. Before meeting my partner though, I'd only been in relationships with women who wanted monogamy. In those relationships I felt trapped and truly could not comprehend why someone would want to be in a sexually monogamous relationship. I went along with it unhappily. (Or not. Once I went outside of a relationship without clearing it with my partner. I feel sad about that).

I still don't really have a felt understanding of sexual jealousy or the desire for monogamy, which I think makes me a little weird. I've never heard anyone else describe feeling the way I do about non-monogamy (I also haven't read any poly stuff, so maybe it's common). Maybe I'll feel different at another time, but right now I can't even imagine feeling jealous of a partner of mine having other sexual/romantic relationships. As I understand it, it's about feelings of abandonment or exclusion or not feeling valued, but honestly, it's really foreign to me. (I had a crazy mother who focused ALL of her attention on me, and I think that may be a part of why jealousy hasn't been a big theme; instead of feeling abandoned, I was desperate for more space.)

An unexpected benefit of being in an open relationship is that it's made me much more responsible about safer sex and STI testing. When I'm considering having sex with a new person, I feel like I'm "having sex for two"--I'm aware that anything I acquire I could pass on to my partner (even though we're not in a "conventional sexual relationship," we are sometimes physically intimate in ways where there could be transmission) and so I'm extra cautious.

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without tenderness, we are in hell. -Adrienne Rich

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atm1
Scarleteen Volunteer
Member # 37835

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I really appreciate both of you putting all of that out there.

I'm not at all in your situation, but I really appreciate your perspectives. I'll be the first person to admit that I just don't get open relationships. I think I'm pretty much the opposite of bluejumprope, and after I've been in a relationship for a while, the idea of being sexual with someone not my partner actually makes me feel ill.

But just because I don't get it doesn't mean I don't want to understand where you're both coming from and what people are often looking for when they are in open relationships. I'm one of those people who definitely believes that people should do what works best for them, no matter what model of a relationship they're working with (so long as they are being safe with their/their partners physical and mental health), but I do believe that it's good for me to not only accept different relationships, but also do my best to understand them.

So thank you very much for sharing!

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Heather
Executive Director & Founder
Member # 3

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I know for myself, I'm very much a switch in this regard.

In other words, I absolutely have had times -- many of them -- where monogamy has felt just right, and the alternatives would not have fit me or the relationship. At the same time, though, I've also spent years single, where I was dating, and often dating more than one person at a time, so that may well influence my feelings with open relationships. Too, like bluejumprope, I have more than once been in situations and relationships where another person was basically obsessed with me, and single-minded about me in a way that either creeped me out, or was flat-out unhealthy, so the ideal of someone only ever, ever thinking of me, or thinking I am the only person in the whole wide world for them, full-stop, is not something that appeals to me. I've also been in a handful of sexual situations in my life where there was more than two people engaged, so that also likely has an influence, as may the fact that my relationship models growing up were very, very varied.

Too, like bluejumprope, as of yet in my life, I have yet to really experience any kind of sexual jealousy. I've felt envy about other people's professional lives, envy about things people have and I don't materially or in terms of things like family, but even romantic envy on my part has been pretty unusual. I tend to be more prone to feelings of compersion in regard to sex and love -- a feeling of joy in the joy others are experiencing, a love of the love people *I* love find, wherever they find it.

But too, I know for me -- particularly right now -- one reason this feels like something workable is that this is a very solid relationship I've been in for a while, and I also know that though the wants and needs are different, it feels like both my partner and I would suffer a lot more by not pursuing them than we would by doing so. For instance, I have watched my partner at times feel the way bluejumprope expresses feeling, that feeling of being trapped, not because he's in something he doesn't want to be in, but because it feels unnecessarily suffocating for him not to be able to be in this AND also enjoy other things that have zip to do with this now and then.

--------------------
Heather Corinna, Executive Director & Founder, Scarleteen
About Me • Get our book!
Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has. - Margaret Mead

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Peaches44
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I'm really glad that you've started this topic. It's something I've been thinking about lately quite a bit.

I guess the idea of an open relationship entered my mind because a friend of mine mentioned recently that he and his girlfriend were going to do this. The big difference being that they would be living in different places. She was going to move away and live in another city until he finished school here and then he would be moving to join her.

I always thought that I wanted a monogamous relationship, and my boyfriend and I talked about this years ago and both agreed we only wanted to be with each other. Lately though I've found myself pondering different scenarios and thinking that an open relationship may be a good idea.

I don't know why my mind suddenly seems to have shifted views like this. Maybe our relationship is just changing as time goes on. It will be 6 years, this February - the last 4 and a half living together.

In any case it's not something I plan on doing any time soon. I wouldn't even know how to bring up the topic with my boyfriend.

But questions keep popping up in my mind. Like how we would make it work? Would it be weird if I started seeing other people and he didn't, or vice-versa? Could I even properly explain to him that I care about him and love him just as much as always but have interests elsewhere at the same time? Am I interested in an open relationship for the right reasons and not just because I'm bored in our relationship?

So far I have more questions than answers.lol [Smile]

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Heather
Executive Director & Founder
Member # 3

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quote:
Am I interested in an open relationship for the right reasons and not just because I'm bored in our relationship?
I find that, for me anyway, the way to get to the heart of that one is to ask myself if I am looking for something additional -- and still committed to the relationship I am in -- or if I am looking for a relationship to replace my existing one with.

quote:
Would it be weird if I started seeing other people and he didn't, or vice-versa?
This tends to be one of those things that is just highly individual. However, in open relationships, it is pretty darn common for it to happen that there are times one partner is seeing someone(s), and another is not, either based on preference or simple opportunity.

quote:
Like how we would make it work?
Again, VERY individual, and one of those things where the way you work it is going to have a lot to do with who you both are, as a couple and as individuals.

quote:
Could I even properly explain to him that I care about him and love him just as much as always but have interests elsewhere at the same time?
Personally, this is less of an issue for me because I tend to lay the groundwork for understanding that with partners whether our relationships are open OR closed. In other words, I tend to be pretty clear that human beings tend to be attracted to more than one person, and we all tend to have a number of different kinds of relationships at any given time (friendships, family, co-workers, romances, sexual relationships, creative partnerships, the works). So, for me, I don't think anyone I get involved with has the expectation I'll only ever have interest in them, exactly: if we agree on monogamy, what's understood is that I have only chosen to PURSUE given things with them. Know what I mean?

At the same time, like right now, for me, I am only interested in one full-time partnership. Only one person is my partner with a big-P, and I only want that with that one person.

I often liken understanding how a person in a romantic or sexual relationship can love more than one partner to how parents can love more than one child.

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Heather Corinna, Executive Director & Founder, Scarleteen
About Me • Get our book!
Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has. - Margaret Mead

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Peaches44
Activist
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I guess the details of an open relationship are different for every couple and something we would have to talk a lot about first.

My motivation is really starting to bug me though. Why would I want an open relationship? If I start to psycho-analyze myself a bit I think it's because I never did much dating. He's only my third "boyfriend" (and I use the term loosely because I'm not sure a junior high fling that lasted one week counts).

I've always been torn between a regretful feeling, like I missed something, and a happy feeling that I didn't have to go through a bunch of bad relationships before I found "the one".

I knew another couple that was much like us, in that they were both young, both each others "first", they were about to move in together. She tried to break up with him just for the summer so she could "find out what she wasn't missing". It all ended in disaster and they broke up.

At the time I thought she just wanted to cheat and not feel guilty about it, and I still think she chose a bad way to go about it. But I kinda see what she meant.

But is exploring a world of dating that I may or may not have "missed out on" enough of a reason to have an open relationship? I'm not sure that it is. I know for sure I don't want to replace him.

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Heather
Executive Director & Founder
Member # 3

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My partner's wants in opening things up, in case it helps to hear another perspective, are pretty much exactly about this.

Even though he is in his thirties, and did have other partners and date before we met, he feels like he didn't really explore that as much as he wanted, not in terms of shopping around for someone else to fill my role, but just in terms of the kind of buzz dating and more casual partnerships have.

I, on the other hand, have had many, many dates, several other long-term relationships and a big awful lot of sexual experimentation in my life. So, it's just not a pressing need for me, and if I missed out on anything, it sure wasn't for lack of trying. [Smile]

But I understand -- even if it's not where I'm at -- why my partner feels that want, and why it's something he thinks he enjoys, and also thinks will benefit our relationship. He has struggled with feeling like this big love came a bit earlier for him than expected, and with anxiety about "missing out" when he knows this IS what he wants, and so has felt really bad about it when there's just no need for that. I know he's very committed to me, I know he's committed to our relationship and also that this isn't about me: it's about him.

Again, the usual caveat: that doesn't mean this -- or any given model -- is right for anyone or everyone. But I know that for us, right now, it seems like something we can certainly try and see how it goes, and that us being able to give one another these freedoms also feels like a very strong gesture of love and trust on both parts that's very meaningful to us both. As well, this is not a new topic for us, which I think is important: it is something we have literally discussed on and off for over three years.

[ 12-22-2008, 04:27 PM: Message edited by: Heather ]

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Heather Corinna, Executive Director & Founder, Scarleteen
About Me • Get our book!
Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has. - Margaret Mead

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Peaches44
Activist
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I was just reading the "feeling trapped in a 'perfect' relationship" thread in the relationships section. *MM* could be me three years ago.

It's good to know other people think this way too. I always thought these feelings were selfish. But its true that these feelings have nothing to do with my boyfriend. He's everything I want in a partner to spend the rest of my life with and we're great together. This is about me.

Thanks for all your input Heather

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Heather
Executive Director & Founder
Member # 3

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My partner went out of town for the holidays, as is our usual pattern (I don't celebrate them, but really like how much time they tend to give me to be alone undisturbed, so in some sense, the solitude I can have at this time IS my celebrating them I suppose!).

While he is away, he has a date. I also will be seeing my other person for a couple days over this time.

It actually was tough for us to leave one another this time, less so because of the impending dates (though we each have our own set of nerves and fears there) and more so because doing this has resulted in us spending nearly every night for close to two weeks sitting on the couch, talking deep into the night. Those conversations, in and of themselves, happening within the context of both of us giving one another a big permission, and acknowledging -- without guilt or hurt feelings -- that we are different people with different sets of needs and neither of us could possibly be expected to meet every single one all the time, have been AMAZING. My partner left town saying that he has never felt closer to me, ever.

Fringe benefit, really, and something totally inexclusive to having an open relationship. In our case, this has happened as a result of working towards this, but I can certainly see that it could have occurred without that context, too. [Smile]

--------------------
Heather Corinna, Executive Director & Founder, Scarleteen
About Me • Get our book!
Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has. - Margaret Mead

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PenguinBoy
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Member # 28394

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I am soooorrt of having an open relationship experience at the moment.

It's not necessarily a case of having a primary relationship out of which other encounters are off-shoots, but more like dating without the necessary emphasis on moving forward onto monogamy - which to me the word dating implies

I haven't had particularly long blocks of time to spend with people I really feel comfortable with to actually put together a more conventional relationship but one person I've managed to build a small romantic relationship with, agreed with me a couple months ago that we both really liked each other and were perfectly happy with the actual set up during "dating" and that we'd really like to continue like that without any obligation for monogamy.

So far that's going relatively well... especially in relation to how I feel about it. The relationship as a whole lacks as much communication and contact as I'd like, but I feel the openness improves how that effects me rather than impedes it.

Speaking about open relationships generally... I like the idea that they allow for more change in the relationship.

Something interesting I was told by someone recently was that their experience of knowing people who'd been in open relationships was that eventually they proved themselves not to be able to stand the test of time... and break ups could result from people becoming more attached to their external partners and deciding to leave the original relationship.

For me however, how long something lasts does not indicate it's quality... some of the most abusive relationships last for years and years. I like the idea of mobility... if a relationship BECOMES bad perhaps partners who are more prepared to negotiate open relationships are also more likely to negotiate a break up, if things weren't working out any more.

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Jacob - my Scarleteen Blog - Please help sustain scarleteen

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Heather
Executive Director & Founder
Member # 3

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quote:
Something interesting I was told by someone recently was that their experience of knowing people who'd been in open relationships was that eventually they proved themselves not to be able to stand the test of time... and break ups could result from people becoming more attached to their external partners and deciding to leave the original relationship.
Just out of curiosity, how old were the people this person was talking about? And how much of a difference of time do you think they were talking about? Do you think the people involved in those relationships had done a lot of communicating and checking-in about all of this or not?

I have to say that in my own experiences, personally and in observing people with what I do for my job, I have yet to see any one model of relationship -- be that open relationships, monogamous ones, marriages, non-marriages -- that seems to universally result in relationships lasting shorter or longer, save that default (read: non-negotiated and undefined) monogamy (especially without breaks in between relationships) in dating seems to be what I observe results in the shortest shelf-life. Of course, younger people, period, tend to have shorter relationships than those of us with greys on our heads. [Smile]

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Heather Corinna, Executive Director & Founder, Scarleteen
About Me • Get our book!
Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has. - Margaret Mead

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PenguinBoy
Activist
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The person who said it was late 50s and was talking about people roughly their age. I did sense a degree of bias on their part because they had been in a monogomous relationship for a couple decades, and were being sort of defensive about it.

This person was comparing their relationship, which at this point is as good as never-ending, with those of their peers who chose to have open relationships... which ended after a few years.

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Jacob - my Scarleteen Blog - Please help sustain scarleteen

Posts: 633 | From: Bedfordshire, UK | Registered: Apr 2006  |  IP: Logged | Report this post to a Moderator
   

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