It’s Freeing to Do Your Own Thing, Even When You’re Very Committed to Someone Else

a white dinner plate that has salmon topped with dill, scallops topped with bacon, and asparagus spears on it
Image by Naotake Murayama / CC BY

Recently, my nesting partner Justin decided to switch over to a low-fat diet. Since I normally serve as the official meal planner for our house, it’s been a big project. Especially because left to my own devices, I typically have two personal eating modes: 1. Low Carb or 2. Eating Like I’m on Death Row.

But we put our heads together, did some research, talked it out, and figured out a list of foods that’ll work.

He’s done an amazing job adjusting to it. Basically he’s cut out red meat, gone whole grain, upped his vegetables, and is being extremely mindful about portions. And it’s definitely showing up in belt loops and the scale. Rather impressively.

Watching him, I’ve found it inspirational. And without even really meaning to, I’ve started to clean up my own act. I’m not going on the same diet as him, but I’m definitely not eating like there’s no tomorrow. I’m keeping my carbohydrates low but also weighing and measuring everything. And I’m watching my calories and portions.

It’s funny — many nights I have to make two meals, or at least make the same main course and prepare extra sides that are only going to be eaten by one of us. In sheer terms of labor, it’s more work. But it oddly feels easier.

And that’s because I’ve started to consider what want when I meal plan. Rather than trying to make one meal for both us and always trying to perform the mental calculus of the best compromise.

For example, I love seafood, having grown up close to the Atlantic Ocean and in Maine, a state that’s rightfully known for lobster, clams, and commercial fishing. My nesting partner, on the other hand, isn’t much of a fan. He can do some shrimp, prepared certain ways. But most seafood turns his stomach.

It dawned on me that if he and I were going to be eating different things, then there was no reason that my dinner couldn’t be, say, a salmon patty. Or a fish taco. Pretty much anything I wanted.  Sure, fish was more expensive than some other things, but with savvy shopping, I could probably swing it. And besides, the price could also keep my portions of other less healthy foods smaller, as a way of offsetting that additional cost. Essentially, I could bribe myself into eating healthier through the promise of more seafood.

And it really wasn’t any more work. If I were already preparing separate sides for Justin, what was the big deal about preparing a separate protein for only me?

Justin was glad to see this change. He’s been encouraging me for ages that I should keep more food that only I like in the house. Eat more seafood. Cruciate vegetables. But instead, I kept deferring to food we both liked, which substantially limited the menu for me since Justin has a more narrow range of food he likes.

It wasn’t until we both really started doing our own thing that I really tuned into what I wanted and stopped pressuring myself to limit it to what overlapped with what he wanted.

And one day as we were going out to buy groceries, it hit me. I’d always thought that going on separate diets would be harder. I didn’t want to make two separate meals. And I stuck to only planning meals that we both enjoyed. And yet, when I actually tried making individual meals instead, it was way easier. I laughed.

“What?” Justin said.

I told him what I’d just been thinking.  Then I added, “It just occurred to me that this is exactly like when I opened up my marriage.”

And part of what I love about Justin is I didn’t even need to explain. He nodded and said, “Totally.”

It’s Freeing to Do Your Own Thing, Even When You’re Very Committed to Someone Else

I used to think that the whole point of doing relationships was to do everything together. That if you wanted to do your own thing that you would be better off being single.

At 17, I participated in a jazz program at UMass Amherst. It wasn’t a youth music camp but open to all ages. And one of my many new friends was a jazz violinist . He was an older guy (probably in his 50s), a hippie. I remember him very well for two reasons:

  1. He was extremely kind to me — in a completely platonic, nonpervy, nonthreatening way. He became my unlikely caretaker: Feeding me after I spent too much money on jazz CDs at the store with the huge selection downtown. Giving me herbal tea the morning after I stupidly experienced my first real hangover. Dancing next to me on the grass when the Sun Ra Arkestra came to campus.
  2. He told me he was in an open marriage. And this was the first time I’d ever met someone who had an open marriage.

After the program was over, I told my mother about this. Asked her what she thought.

She scowled. “I think it’s stupid. If you’re going to sleep with other people, why bother even getting married in the first place?”

I could hear the emotion in her voice. Each syllable was laced with insecurity and irritation that others were living their lives a different way than she was (a common theme in her judgments of others). But even knowing that her argument was seated on biased grounds, I didn’t have a good answer then.

There were the obvious arguments that marriage had practical implications: Legal protections, tax benefits. It could provide someone who was a freelancer with the ability to qualify for their partner’s health insurance.

But as far as answers that addressed the emotional environment? Well, I was out of my depth.

I didn’t understand how doing your own thing from time to time would be beneficial. How it would make anything easier.

So I stayed quiet, wondering on for it a little while before I forgot because that violinist’s open marriage wasn’t really relevant to my day to day life. And wasn’t until over a decade later that I thought much about it again, when I found out one of my own good friends, someone I respected, had an open marriage. They were polyamorous, she explained, and it was the first time I’d heard the word.

I was a bit puzzled — I still hadn’t figured out the answer to my mother’s question. Why someone would choose to do such a thing.

But instead of shutting down, I stayed curious. I listened to my friend for hours as she spoke about the past few years that she had been polyamorous. Her decisions for doing so. The ups and downs. Challenges and joys.

One of the biggest themes I kept hearing: It’s freeing to do your own thing, even when you’re very committed to someone else.

And as we drank gallons of flavored coffee, talking sometimes into the dawn hours, I realized that I was falling in love with her. Within a few months, we were dating. My own marriage was open.

And nothing has been the same since.

*

Books by Page Turner:

A Geek’s Guide to Unicorn Ranching

Poly Land: My Brutally Honest Adventures in Polyamory 

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