There are so many labels that we have come across in the past few months, and have found that even the use of labels is difficult because everyone has their own interpretation of what the label means. With many definitions it is necessary to ask clarifying follow-up questions in order to determine exactly what a label like “open relationship,” “polyamorous,” or “swinger” means to someone.
To identify as “swingers” felt very comfortable for us when we first opened up our relationship because it was a way of exploring physical connections without having to consider the implications of creating meaningful emotional attachments with others. Swinging felt very comfortable to me (K) when we first started researching non-monogamous possibilities. It still fits within the paradigm of monogamy; you have your life partner, girlfriend, boyfriend, whoever. But there is only one other person you are with. You are not encouraged to develop feelings or emotional connections with other “playmates.” It is a highly social activity, with several websites and clubs dedicated to “the Lifestyle.” Older swingers we have met subscribe to this “traditional” view of swinging: sex and feelings are kept very separate as very distinct expressions. Sex is about physical attraction, desire, and fulfillment. Feelings of love and caring are only for one’s primary partner. Many “swingers” who are around our age reject this notion, and are instead much more fulfilled by good or best friends who they can occasionally (or frequently) hop in the sack with.
For a little while, both J and I felt we may identify closer to the polyamorous end of the open relationship spectrum because of the rejection of keeping feelings totally separate. However, neither of us wants to make major life decisions with anyone else. We have been building our relationship for five years together, and adding someone else into the mix of “where should we go to school? Where should we move? What kind of house should we buy? What about finances and paying back loans?” seems too complicated. It seems too complicated to us to provide other partners with the level of commitment and sacrifice that we have provided each other. And neither of us is particularly sure we would even want that. That being said, we both agree that feelings develop over time, and that it would only be natural to develop intimacy and deep feelings of love and caring for people we consider to be good friends who we also share physical connection with. It is not solely because we share a physical connection with others but rather that we have developed a meaningful friendship with these people over time. We liken that expectation to how we even love our vanilla friends; why is that so different if sex is involved?
J and I opened up our relationship with the intention of getting away from monogamy, and not to be exclusive with other people. This is the idea of polyfidelity: having a monogamous relationship with other people. We see polyfidelity working for us under specific circumstances: to diminish the possibility of contracting an STI, or perhaps because of an inability for geographic reasons to meet new people.
We realized over time that the term “open relationship” works best to describe what we do. This term gives us the flexibility to clearly identify ourselves as being outside of the traditional realm of monogamy without being instantly prejudged or have people make unwarranted assumptions about what that term means for us. (I will pause here to say that K and I are both aware that there are certain connotations and misconceptions associated with the term “open relationship” – we know this because K and I both had these ideas. They are things like “people in an open relationship are just fooling around,” “they just want sex without a ‘relationship,’” and “they just don’t want to actually commit to each other.”) By telling people we are in an open relationship we have the flexibility to explain exactly what that term means to us and how we approach non-monogamy. We do like getting to know and care for people and we want to develop long-lasting and meaningful relationships with others; however, just like in “vanilla” dating, we do not actively seek these things out but rather allow them to happen naturally. We want to be open to the idea of caring for and loving other people merely because we feel it is only natural that these sorts of feelings could develop over time with the right people. We feel very fortunate to have met many other incredible, intelligent, and attractive people near our own age who are also involved in open relationships who feel very similarly to us about the idea that feelings can and likely will develop over time.
Lastly K and I want to draw a distinction between life partners and loving other people. K and I are in love with one another and we have also made a decision to spend our life together because we are both in love with each other and because we are compatible in terms of our future goals, the way we like to live, travel, spend money, work, play, etc. K and I have spent 5 years building a meaningful and loving relationship with one another and we love one another, so even if we love other people, we are not looking to replace each other with a new life partner because we feel there is more to a “life partnership” than merely being in love; it is a combination of love, compatibility, and time.