Tristan Taormino’s Opening Up is amazing. It is practical, realistic, and amazingly helpful in thinking about all of the different issues that can arise from opening up your relationship. It was so helpful for me to read, and to use all of the different questions she poses in chapter eleven, Designing Your Open Relationship, to aid J and I in discussing what we want.
The first part of her book offers a brief history of open relationships, as well as debunks a number of myths surrounding open relationships. She has a series of questions to ask yourself about why you might want an open relationship, and offers explanations for why some people choose open relationships over monogamy. She also moves through the characteristics that make an open relationship a health relationship: consent, self-awareness, communication, honesty, setting and respecting boundaries, trust, fidelity, and commitment. The idea of fidelity for both J and I was really interesting, because it has such a connotation with cheating in monogamous relationships. But Tristan’s idea about fidelity basically relates to honoring your commitments and keeping your promises. This version of fidelity fits with any relationship style, monogamous or nonmonogamous.
The second part of her book guides us through the main “forms” or “kinds” of open relationships. She discusses partnered nonmonogamy, swinging, polyamory, polyfidelity, and combinations of poly/mono and mono/nonmono relationships. For me, it was really helpful to see the broad characteristics of these kinds of open relationships, and it was also helpful to realize that it doesn’t matter so much what the relationship is labeled; it is more important that both partners are happy with what the relationship is doing for them. I am not sure what I would call what J and I are “doing.” It definitely started out as a swinging relationship, but after talking through all of the questions that Tristan poses, it could be something else.
The third section of Opening Up was my favorite I think. The who, what, when, and where checklists that she includes in chapter eleven were extremely helpful for me in knowing what kinds of questions to ask myself and to ask J. We were able to think of situations and our hypothetical reactions and feelings, and proactively address them. Tristan also has chapters on jealousy and other intense feelings (including insecurity, envy, feelings of loss, etc), compersion (which is generally thought of in the open relationship world as the opposite of jealousy- taking pleasure in your partner’s pleasure), common challenges in open relationships, changes that can arise from having an open relationship, coming out or not to friends and family, raising children in open families, safer sex, and legal issues. My favorite chapters were those on designing your open relationship, jealousy, compersion, and coming out. The chapter on common challenges was thought-provoking for me. She discusses how to deal with New Relationship Energy (or NRE), time management, miscommunication, and agreement violations. This was an important chapter for me, because the time aspect of opening up has definitely been a concern for me. I also really enjoy her way of discussing safer sex. As someone who hopes to go into the field of sexuality education, I really appreciate that she says “safer sex” practices. Sex can be emotionally, psychologically, and mentally challenging, and is not always emotionally or psychologically “safe.” Therefore, it is important to have good communication and honesty, while also using methods to prevent STIs and pregnancy if needed.
One of my favorite things about this book is the representation of the breadth of open relationships. Tristan includes anecdotes, opinions, rules and boundaries, and other quotes from the 126 people she interviewed for her book. While some (in fact, many) of the relationship styles represented were ones that I would shy away from for various reasons, it was very important to me to see that an open relationship is not “one” thing. There is not cookie-cutter mold for how to be in an open relationship. It takes clear communication, a reliance on being able to say what you need and want, an ability to truly respect and trust your partner, and an ability to be flexible to change for both yourself and your partner.
It can be horribly difficult to move through feelings of jealousy and insecurity, and fear of losing one’s partner. I should know, since I just spent the entire day yesterday doing just that. And I don’t mean to say that I am done with that process!! Being raised to believe that “the one” Prince Charming will complete you takes a while to undo, and even though the process of undoing that socialization can be challenging and heart-wrenching, it is totally worth it. I don’t think that I would be satisfied going back to monogamy. I can see going back to monogamy for natural life reasons (death in the family, new job, moving to a new place, etc); having time to just be with my primary partner, J, during those times seems natural and expected. But I don’t think we will ever be like we were before we started this process. And I wouldn’t want to be.
I am now reading The Ethical Slut, a fairly popular and well-known title, and I am excited to finish it and write a post on my reactions to that book as well!
My last comment: Pick up Tristan Taormino’s Opening Up if you are even interested in what an open relationship could be like for you!!