Like so many other people who consider opening their relationships, I had one firm rule. No other intimate relationships. Friends were great, sex was great, but I didn’t want anything beyond that. It was one of those conditions that made me feel more secure. If we keep emotions out of it, all that’s left is fun. Listening to other people open their relationships I hear the same things I used to say. It’s just about sex, or, we’re just keeping the feelings out of it.
Through my experiences I learned that there is a different kind of intimacy that you can experience with someone outside of your relationship. It doesn’t threaten your relationship. It doesn’t feel like too much. It can exist within a second relationship or within a friendship or within casual sex. I think what this intimacy I was experience was the ability to have emotional feelings for more than one person. I think it’s still developing.
I just finished reading The Giver. Do you remember that book? Midway through Jonas starts to see colors, but he doesn’t know what they are because he’s never seen them before. The more information he collects about the world around him the more this picture clear. That is what this feels like. It’s not something you can take on all at once. It’s a process.
It’s easy to be afraid of loving someone besides your partner. Probably even more frightening to think about your partner loving someone besides you. What does that mean in our society? It can be easy to think that if your partner loves someone else that they will leave you, start a relationship with them, and be happier. After all: If they fell for someone else, doesn’t that mean they love you less? I am not talking about this all encompassing true love, and whatever that entails. I’m talking about a simple kind of love. When you think about your best friend and you realize you care how they are feeling when you ask “How are you doing?” or when you go a week without seeing someone and you want to check in. It can manifest itself in all kinds of ways.
So I tried the whole emotionless sex for a while, and it was fun. You kiss a friend now and then and you don’t feel tangled up about it. Sometimes, though, you find someone you like. You get along with them. You click. Maybe she likes your mind and body and you like her mind and body and when you hang out it’s comfortable and you get each other. And so you could go out and find someone else and have that quick affair, or you could see them again and get exactly what you know you like.
Dating is exhausting. I feel pretty lucky that I can “date” within a relationship. I have someone there at the end of the day who I can share my experiences with and feel close to. If every single date I ever had was with a different person, I would feel like exhausted. There are only so many people that you can connect with. That like what you like. That you can feel intellectually and sexually stimulated by. This is not to say that it’s somehow wrong to date a different string of people, but there is something to be said for not feeling ashamed for finding someone you like, either.
I found that when I saw someone for a second date, or a third date, I was more comfortable with them, which made the sex better. It also made me more comfortable because they knew what my relationship was about, so I didn’t have to constantly explain it to them.
But what if the intimacy keeps developing, and they want a relationship? This is part of my evolving feelings on love. All the people that I “date” or “see” or have “friendships” are people that I’m in relationships with. They are different relationships, but they are still relationships. They thrive in different ways, but they’re relationships all the same. My best friend from preschool is someone I’m in a relationship with. That guy from OkCupid I see once a month is someone I’m in a relationship with. I care about them in different ways and appreciate them in different ways.
If someone wanted a type of relationship that I wasn’t willing or ready to give, we would have that conversation then. I’m always upfront about what I’m looking for from the beginning, but people change and evolve and so you have to keep checking in if things change. As I’ve mentioned in the past on my blog, I don’t really want to have other girlfriends or boyfriends. I do really enjoy having people in my life that I can build intimacy with and share big conversations with. I enjoy letting those relationships grow into something that is both friendly and intimate.
Each open relationship develops with everyones own individual needs in mind. I am certain (and have seen) other open relationships that have several individuals involved, lots of partners, or many more casual encounters. They’re all different and everyone is looking for something unique.
So theres this different kind of intimacy and it builds within relationships between two or more people if you allow yourself to not be afraid. If you’re afraid that the intimacy is going to take you away and change you and change your relationship, you’re not going to be able to experience those great moments will all the great people. You won’t be able to experience this specific connection with someone (which I feel comes from building trust, and experience, and shared interests.)
There are a few people in my life that I can say that I have “loving feelings for” and if I were to say “I love you” or “I care about you” it wouldn’t mean the same thing as it did if I told it to my boyfriend. There is no relationship of any kind that could replace him or his place in my life and I’d like to think the same of him. I care about other people because I have slowly – and continue to – open myself up to the possibility that the people in my life are going to care for me if I care for them.
I think the struggle of figuring out how to love more than one person, even in little small ways, can be incredibly useful in learning about ourselves and how we care for one another. It can be incredibly useful in learning how we develop and sustain our relationships.
I apologize for the back and forth use of love/intimacy. I feel like all of these words are really heavily weighted with expectation. At the end of it all, what I’m really trying to say is that showing feelings for people who aren’t your boyfriend/girlfriend is not a kill switch. We do not have a limited amount of love to give. We have an infinite amount. And we’re keeping too much of it inside ourselves because we’re afraid. Maybe that it won’t be given back to us. That it will be lost, or misinterpreted.
Lastly – and I promise this is it – there are a lot of great quotes about love. One that I’ve really liked lately is about how we love. It was something about the people who we care about shows us more about who our friends are then who cares about us. It basically was referencing the fact that when we do things for other people to show that we care about them, that fosters more of a connection then them doing good things for us. It’s hard not to butcher such a big concept, if anyone can phrase it better, let me know.
I have seen this in my own experiences. When I find someone that I enjoy being around, I tell them. In that, there is this strange moment of intimacy. It’s small, but not really too small. It’s pretty big, actually.
You like me, you really like me?
We all just wanted to be appreciated, after all.