...A story about how I stopped following societal norms
While growing up, I was constantly reminded of what an ideal relationship should be like: a man and a woman fall in love, start dating, move in together, get married, have kids, grow old and live happily ever after surrounded by grandkids, great-grandkids, and great-great-grandkids. And if, God forbid, that wasn’t the case — it inevitably ended in a disaster. Remember what happened to Anna Karenina?..
This model was promoted everywhere — movies and TV shows, books, magazines, family conversations, in role play with my fellow kindergarteners, in ads all around me, and beyond. I was convinced that that’s how relationships should be and couldn’t imagine any other way.
My first “aha” moment happened when a close friend, someone I loved dearly, announced he was homosexual. There I was — a girl that was 100% sure up until that very moment that there was no other kind of love other than between a man and a woman — realizing that a couple didn’t have to mean a man and a woman. I understood, all of a sudden, that love could happen between two people of any gender, age, ethnicity, or any other demographic criteria.
At that point I was still convinced that a relationship that doesn’t follow a relationship escalator trajectory is not a valid relationship. I was in search for “the one” that I’d hoped I’d grow old with and feel crazy passion with…forever. As far as I can remember, though, — I’m talking daycare years — I always had a crush on someone. Usually (but not always) a boy. Sometimes I liked two boys at the same time. Sometimes three. I felt that I was only allowed to like one, so I made myself choose. Choosing who to like was not an easy task for a teenager and was usually accompanied by emotional turmoil and drama. It didn’t occur to me that there might be another way. I didn’t see any other ways and I wasn’t a rebel enough to revolutionize how people loved.
Years went by, I had multiple boyfriends throughout highschool and college that I dated consequently until I started liking someone new at which point I felt like it was time to break up. I met my husband right after college. We dated for a few years, moved in together, got engaged, then got married, then bought a house, had kids, and planted a tree. Basically, we lived the American Dream. What else could a woman want, right?
About four years into my relationship with my husband I had a crush on a coworker. I, obviously, didn’t think I was allowed to feel that way since I was in love with my then future-husband, so I lied to myself and pretended I didn’t care about that guy. I “waited it out” until I changed jobs and the feelings eventually subsided.
Then, a couple of years and a couple of kids later, I had another crush. It coincided with my quarter-life-crisis — the time I was re-evaluating my values and what I considered to be right and wrong. I started questioning the norms and the reasons why people lived their lives certain ways. I was trying to answer questions around my values and belief system, career, raising kids and what I wanted to teach them, and, ultimately, relationships. By then I’ve heard of “open relationships” and that monogamy was not the only choice but I never really thought about it being an option for me.
I started wondering, how come I loved my husband deeply, and yet I managed to develop feelings for other people. I realized I needed the butterflies that only a new relationship can produce and shared that sentiment with my husband. Thankfully, he is amazing and open minded and we agreed to try open relationship.
I like to research everything, so before launching into dating I decided to read up on theory. I started with the Ethical Slut, then proceeded to Opening Upand More Than Two. As I studied theory on open relationships and ethical non-monogamy, I found that there are unlimited number of ways how the relationships can take shape.
Kathy Labriola (a counselor and a nurse) describes three basic models of polyamorous relationships:
the primary/secondary model, where you have a primary partner (often a spouse or a domestic partner) and one or a few secondary partners;
multiple primary partners model, where you don’t distinguish the priority of partners and a few relationships;
and the multiple non-primary partners model, where all your partners are equally uncommitted.
Psychology Today contributor Elizabeth A. Sheff writes about 7 forms of non-monogamy:
Polyamory and polyfidelity
and relationship anarchy.
I’m not going to describe each of those, I think Elizabeth A. Sheff did a great job. My point is, there are many ways to love and be in a relationship. Or two. Or ten.
When I finally started dating, my idea of how I wanted my relationships to be has evolved and changed a few times. It all started with a terrifying thought that my husband is the only person I will have sex with for the rest of my life. So I thought that all I needed was a new sex partner. Then I realized that having not only sexual, but also mental connection is important for me too. Then I experimented with my ethical boundaries and came to the conclusion that I did not want to date anyone whose other partners weren’t aware that they are also dating me. Then I decided that having more than two partners can be also quite exciting. I am not sure where this exploration of my sexuality will take me. That’s the beauty of having the freedom to explore relationships with multiple people: as I date, I learn things about myself, including what my needs are and what kind of relationship arrangements work best for me.
I wish more people knew that there are unlimited options for how they can live their lives and design their relationships. As Kathy Labriola says, “we are so heavily socialized to believe in the ideals of monogamy and marriage, that many people cannot even imagine any other option.” Fortunately, media has been slightly more open to the openness, so to speak, and there are now movies, TV shows, and articles that talk about alternative lifestyles and non-monogamous relationships.
If we weren’t honest enough with ourselves and with each other, my husband and I, and all the others that were not afraid to admit that they wanted to try something outside of societal norms would still be repressing their feelings and possibly developing mental and physical illnesses as a result.
Going against social norms can feel pretty uncomfortable, but if you do, you might discover that there is a way to live that is much more satisfying for you.