Long-Married and Newly Poly, at least in Theory
Hi, all. I have really enjoyed reading the conversations and advice on this site. It has been a big comfort to realize that mine isn't the first relationship to become so complicated, and that non-monogamy isn't just objectively wrong. I've been wavering between depression and excitement about my wife's and my decision to open our relationship. There have been a lot of heavy emotions and scared feelings, and I appreciate the opportunity to vent to and ask questions of such a thoughtful, experienced and empathetic community. To those with enough time and patience to get through this, please bear with me as I lay it all out on the table.
My wife (MW) and I have been together more than 14 years, since we met in college. We got married about eight years ago, and we've been monogamous the entire time (mostly - see next paragraph). A few years ago, my wife admitted to me that she'd been dealing with some difficult emotions. She realized she wanted sex with other women, and she was thinking about it obsessively and becoming depressed. She had even started seeing a therapist because she was afraid to tell me about her desires. I felt terrible that she hadn't felt comfortable talking with me about it. I wanted, and still want, for her to be happy, as well as to preserve our wonderful relationship.
Soon after MW made her admission to me, I gave her "permission" to go do what she thought she needed to, but we didn't go about making a formal agreement and such. We did not step into the world of non-monogamy very consciously or thoughtfully, and we paid a price. MW had a sexual experience with a woman (VA) who was dishonest about the arrangement VA had with her own girlfriend; when it was over, VA told my wife to keep it hush-hush, that VA's girlfriend could never find out. Then VA started bragging about her conquest (MW) to people I was friends with, who started giving MW the cold shoulder. The situation had blown up, and I became angry. I realize now that I let jealousy dominate my actions, and I revoked the naive "permission" I had given her. "I didn't sign up for this," right? "We made a commitment to each other, and I don't have to put up with this behavior." I let my petty feelings of jealousy damage my partner's mental health and satisfaction and make her life worse. Because MW loves me so much, she lived with it, but I knew her feelings about other women didn't subside.
I've walked in on her watching female-oriented porn or looking at pictures of naked women. She'd close her computer, embarrassed, like her desires were still secret. It didn't bother me, and I would just laugh (or get in on the sexy feelings, and we'd have an encounter of our own). In recent weeks and months, MW has been talking about going to a therapist again to deal with the "inconvenient" (my word, not hers) feelings she has been having. I began to think that giving her "permission" to have sex with other women again would help her more than it would hurt me, and last week I told her it would be all right if she did. She cried out of happiness, I think mixed with love, appreciation and guilt; I just cried.
MW dug out a copy of The Ethical Slut a friend and confidante had given her. I started reading it and found a lot of the ideas intriguing. I didn't know anything about polyamory. That has changed since reading The Ethical Slut and Opening Up along with every piece of material I could find online (particularly this site). Equality without symmetry started making a lot of sense to me: MW is only interested in being physical with other women, and she initially suggested boundaries aimed at emotional separation from third parties; however, going out to bars or whatever to find other women to "hook up" with doesn't really appeal to me, personally. I think I would have more trouble separating sex from emotion, and the idea of having a relationship but not "being allowed" to fall in love seems both hollow and unrealistic. But a poly relationship seemed more appealing the more I read about it. Though we love being with each other, MW and I have different interests and social groups, and we spend a fair amount of time apart. I began to see the possibility of a romantic relationship with another woman as potentially feasible and emotionally satisfying.
When I told MW that I would like a longer-term, more romantic outside relationship on "my end" of the agreement, it made her upset. She wondered what our marriage lacked in that department and how we could fix it; she sees an emotional attachment to a third party as dangerous, which I suppose it has the potential to be. I said that if we're going to make an open relationship work, then this is what I want: to be free to interact with others as a freethinking adult human, even if that means loving and being physical with another woman. That seems like a much more fulfilling way to live to me than occasionally "scoring" with someone I'm not married to. We have discussed rules and boundaries in order to preserve our marriage, but they have yet to be put into practice, so I imagine renegotiation will be necessary once that happens. I suppose it's only fair that this arrangement be scary for both of us, though that was not my aim in proposing what I did. Thankfully, neither swinging nor threesomes appeal to either me or MW; that would only complicate things further.
Here's where it gets additionally complicated, as if this post isn't long enough. I have a really good female friend, and I have been struggling with inconvenient emotions of my own. I don't think of a romantic relationship with her as a possibility for various reasons... OK, in all honesty on this anonymous forum, I don't think she'd go for it. Having kept my own feelings a secret from everybody, including MW, for a long time out of guilt and shame and futility helped me empathize with her situation. It wasn't until I agreed that she should pursue her own interests and subsequently made my way through The Ethical Slut that I realized a romantic relationship outside of my marriage was even a possibility. The thought of being with my good female friend in that way was, and is, exciting, even though I know it's not a real possibility, but that's disappointment, and that's life - and that doesn't mean the excited feeling can't arise with some other special woman sometime in the future, or that a rewarding, loving relationship couldn't evolve for me with a third party without destroying the marriage that I treasure.
I explained these things to MW, who was hurt that I hadn't told her of my feelings for my friend previously (See? Solid proof that open relationships foster honesty and openness), but she agreed that it is only fair that our open marriage be equal, and I encouraged her to think of finding a longer-term girlfriend(s) of her own in order to have a more rewarding and satisfying life experience than finding some girl to screw for a night. She was surprised but seems open to the idea. MW is able to sympathize with me and support me while simultaneously wishing my hoped-for relationship with my friend never comes to fruition because she is afraid. MW and I are still in love after all these years.
MW has many friends who are experienced in these things, but I do not, which is why I value the opportunity this forum has to offer. I spent days agonizing about the state of things, internalizing all the complicated thoughts that arose. I forgot to eat, I couldn't sleep. I still feel like this "open relationship" thing is an uncomfortable secret, though I finally told a few of my best friends, including the aforementioned female friend whom I love, and they were all incredibly supportive. My appetite returned and I could sleep through the night. Verbalizing my plight made me feel like I was floating after days and days of obsessing and being weighed down by heavy, uncertain feelings. However, I constantly feel negativity just under the surface. It's another reason writing this post is valuable for me, even if nobody reads this far.
So here we stand, in a theoretically open relationship, with the possibility of polyamory in our future. I am overwhelmed by emotion. I know things will only become more complicated as other human beings become involved sexually or romantically in our lives. I would love to be able to pose questions (much more briefly than I did this intro, I assure you) to you as difficulties arise.
Thank you. I really appreciate this.