We must be willing to get rid of the life we’ve planned, so as to have the life that is waiting for us.
One does not discover new lands without consenting to lose sight of the shore for a very long time.
“What advice would you give your past self?” someone asked me the other day. And even though it’s one of those icebreaker-style questions, it really did give me pause. One answer sprung immediately to mind: Get comfortable with risk because you can’t mitigate all of it.
Oh, but she tried, past self. She really tried to mitigate every risk. Her heart was in the right place.
It’s been over a decade since my then-husband (now ex) and I decided to open up our marriage. We’d been monogamous for eight years. I had been a wild child prior to meeting him, a party girl who had cleaned up her act because I craved stability. I wanted a safe place to land. A place to belong.
Novelty was fun and all. But I was tired of being ditched the moment I was inconvenient — by lovers, yes, but also by friends who were all coupling off, settling down, disappearing into a cloud of New Relationship Energy.
He and I had been set up as a joke by our mutual friends. We were the only single people they knew. Why didn’t we date? Wouldn’t that be funny?
That blind date turned into a long-term relationship which turned into a marriage.
True, we weren’t quite happy with each other. He felt like he settled down too soon before he’d had a chance to “taste all the flavors” (wording of his that always made me cringe). For my part, I felt like he always kept me at arm’s length. I wanted deep conversations in the dark, boundless intimacy. It was heaven to me — and to other people — but a kind of Hell to him.
So we stuck to where we overlapped. We played video games together and discussed art films and philosophy. We made each other laugh. I was glad to have company.
He never stopped complaining about settling down too soon.
Unexpectedly Opening Up
So when close friends of ours revealed that they were polyamorous about eight years into our relationship (after we’d been married four years), friends who had a very stable and good relationship, we found ourselves discussing opening up in a different way.
Somewhat hilariously — now that I have the benefit of hindsight — I was less enthusiastic about the idea. True, I often felt unfulfilled and lonely, but I felt lucky to have anyone around full time. I was sure the moment that he clicked with someone else, he’d take off and I’d be alone.
He was much more optimistic. Excited. It would give him that opportunity to “taste all the flavors.”
I was scared as hell. But I said okay — because when I thought through it all, I realized I didn’t know it’d destroy our relationship. And if it did, wouldn’t that mean that it wasn’t as good as I thought it was? And wouldn’t I want to know this now versus fifty years from now? He never liked this reasoning but was happy I was on board. And off we went.
Big Risks Imply Also Taking Smaller Ones
I had been prepared for things to be scary, for things to be rocky, to have to make big changes in order to completely restructure my love life. He was not. He thought I was worrying about things that would never happen.
And as the months and eventually years wound on, something curious happened: I grew. I changed. And I had a lot of success romantically.
My then-husband struggled to make connections. With time and effort, he did forge a few things. Part of it was the gender disparity. It is, in general, more difficult for men to find partners in polyamorous settings. But it wasn’t just the gender disparity. I was learning that there was something adventurous, flexible, and adaptive about me that made my experience more successful and more fun.
You see, I realized early on that we were embarking on strange journey by opening up our relationship. It wasn’t as basic as simply flipping a switch that said OPEN and connections flooding in by the dozen. No, when you ask someone to connect with you, you’re asking them to take a risk. And this means taking risks back.
Looking back, it seems an awful lot like then-husband wanted to have the same life, just with more sex and love in it. But not a bit more risk. And it doesn’t work that way. He had just as hard of a time being vulnerable with other people as he did with me.
It certainly didn’t help that we opened up our marriage in the Maine woods, mind you. There’s a shortage of young people there period (most of them move away for school and careers) — and if you add in something nontraditional on top of that… well, then forget about it.
So it seemed sensible to me that we should consider moving somewhere where there was more of a community. We had connections. People we’d met. And my job (I was the only one working) as a medical transcriptionist was mobile and could be done from anywhere, so that wasn’t an obstacle.
My then-husband thought I was crazy. To me, opening up the marriage in the first place was a big ask. Relocation seemed minuscule next to that. Heck, it seemed implied, given where we currently lived and how difficult it was proving to date.
Nevertheless, he agreed to go.
Get Comfortable With Risk Because You Can’t Mitigate All of It
Anyway, it’s something I would tell both of us — if I could go back to the people we were when we first opened up: Get comfortable with risk because you can’t mitigate all of it.
I’d also tell my past self to stop worrying so much about his feelings, that not only would I never make him fully happy but that it wasn’t my job. And that he liked to complain. I come from a family where complaining for all but the most dire reasons was outlawed — so as an adult, I avoid complaining about things until they’re half-killing me. It took me quite a long to realize that this isn’t normal, and that a lot of people complain recreationally for fun (slash effectance) or about things that hardly even bother them. So I took his complaints very much to heart — when complaining was just something he did.
But yes. I’d probably want to do a better job impressing upon then-husband that this represented a huge risk — not just to our marriage but to other facets of our life. That it could very well lead to relocation — and my switching careers.
That when you change something that big, other changes will surely follow. Some of them will be causally linked of course, but also the process of opening up changed me so drastically that I realized a lot of things that once suited me no longer did.
A lot of it was scary. But I’m so happy I did it. We’re no longer together, that’s true. But we’ve both moved on to what suits us better. The proverbial bigger and better things.