We started as open, NOT poly. This was a very important distinction to us, despite not having a working definition of either types of relationships. It was, we both agreed, substantially less cringe to be open than poly. We didn’t want to be one of those poly couples. I caved in two days. “I think I want to be poly, NOT open.” In about half a week I had swiped through thousands of profiles, both in the Hudson Valley (where I live) and New York City radiuses. I had feverishly attempted maybe thirty conversations with various men (and one woman), most of whom I had ghosted after about three exchanges. I landed on two candidates. Two men that were opposites in nearly every way (one in the city/one upstate, one older/one younger, one rich/one pretending to be poor, one fuckboy/one nice boy) and which represented the two sides of my personality. My nerdy side and my...I don’t want to say cool side.
More like, the side of me that likes to do drugs. But, let’s go back to the very beginning. Why did we decide to try open (...and then poly)? It wasn’t really a decision at all, it was more of an inevitability. My girlfriend and I are two bi women and so we sort of just assumed that at some point we’d dabble in an open relationship to get our...needs...met with men. We thought we were “chill” and could certainly handle it. We weren’t like those straight, monogamous relationships with all that jealousy stuff. Jane (my girlfriend) went first. A quick, casual hook up that did not rock our boat. And so we thought: I guess we can do this! That wasn’t so bad. Then, it was my turn and things took a turn for the worst. This was my first time really using Tinder. The upcoming first date would be my first ever tinder date. I chose a few selfies, a bikini pick, a cheeky mirror pick in booty shorts. My bio: “cat mom. splitting my time between the Hudson Valley and BK. Queer + in an open relationship.” Deceptively chill. As the super-likes came rolling in I remembered what it is like to be on the dating market with men. I remembered (or I guess confirmed) that at 26 years old I still got it, baby. Finding men on the internet was like looking through the sale section at Reformation. I could take my pick, but pickings were slim.
Let's start with the fuckboy. As I said he was older than me, specifically he was ten years older. For some this might seem slightly scandalous, and for others those are rookie numbers. According to his tinder bio he was a comedian, which made him a male comedian, and I took this as a sign that he was incapable of love and therefore would be perfect for my situation. This was very much not his first rodeo—he took the lead effortlessly and we were sexting within ten minutes. As a submissive person this is exactly what I was looking for: someone assertive so that I don’t have to make my bad decisions myself. Sexting is better than sex, truly. It was the sexting that took our relationship (me and Jane’s relationship—remember?) to the brink. While, sure, I had sent various nudes to Jane over the years, there is nothing like sending a nude to a new person. To present your very best self, without all your irl fleshy neediness, and have it met with adoration, horniness and a dick pick. Fucking someone without really fucking them. There is nothing more hot than not having sex. Maybe I’m asexual.
When Jane came home that first day after we were talking, my underwear drawer was strewn across the room and my eyes were glued to my phone. I should have had the wherewithal to put my phone away at that moment, but I was jittery with excitement. I hadn’t had a dose of male validation in three years since Jane and I started dating and I had completely forgotten how addicting it could be. Jane tried her best to be supportive at first. She asked to see a picture of him. “Oh, he’s cute.” She asked to see his dick. “Oh, wow.” But when I was still giggling at my phone an hour later she grew impatient. Her curiosity got the better of her and she asked to read the texts. Uh oh. It wasn’t the sexting I was worried about. It was the amount of sexting, or just texting in general. We had been texting all day long, instantly back and forth, like high school besties. It had an obsessive quality to it. Why was I texting this man SO much? And there was the greater problem of the lustfulness oozing from my words—a kind of raw horniness I hadn’t expressed for Jane in years. It hurt her to see it laid bare. And it scared me too; I felt out of control. Maybe that’s just what a long term relationship is. Sparks turn into love, and you can’t turn love back into sparks. That’s just life and maybe the boomers are right about a couple things.
Now, I think this could be a good time discuss guy #2, the younger one. He was two years younger than me, but somehow with the swapped genders it felt equivalent to a ten year age gap. We talked a lot too, but no sexting. He talked in huge blocks of text punctuated with smiley faces with candid but not over-sharey reflections on growing up in Colorado, ending up on the east coast and his life as an aspiring artist of sorts. I adored the fact that he was from Colorado because I went to college there and will always nostalgically pine for the vast expanse of the West. We were similar in a lot of ways, but I wasn’t sure we had any chemistry at the time. I thought maybe we could just be friends. The very first thing I did when I met him in person was text my friend, “oh fuck, he’s really cute.” He was decidedly more cute than his pictures, as if he was actively trying to hide it. Without the welding goggles and weird facial expressions and art-hoe aesthetics clouding up the picture, he was just a goofy, cute nerd: my type. We stepped into the backyard of the only hip bar in town, despite the fact it was a chilly fall night, and I immediately launched into a frantic back-story of everything that had brought me to this point. After one glass of wine we had gotten past the light traumas and were ready for the big stuff. So, basically, it was a typical first date. He was polyamorous, like really poly, the sort of thing me and Jane had sworn off just a few days
prior. Like polyamorous people are prone to do—he tried to sell me on the lifestyle. Luckily for him, I am easily sold. We talked about the nature of love and relationships. I talked about how for a lot of people the feeling of falling in love/lust/longing seems to be rare, and they slog through years of dating for just a taste of something that excites them. But, for me it's really not rare at all. I could fall in love anytime, anywhere, with anyone. I could fall in love with a log if the lighting was right. He seemed to think this made me a perfect candidate for polyamory. He doesn’t read the news at all, so he is that sort of guy—big ideas. He explained the major poly talking points: he wants more love in his life, not less. And he believes on a fundamental level that love should be endlessly shared, passed around like a soggy joint. And in the moment, two glasses in, I believed him, every word connected to me on a deep level. (Though sober me thinks maybe love is measured in longitude, not latitude. Additional partners can serve as a distraction that keeps each new love shallower and prevents you from ever having to venture into the deep end. Polyamorous love is not the sort of love that consumes you whole. But, then again, maybe we shouldn’t want that sort of love. Maybe the boomers are wrong about that.) That night he told me about an art piece he created to represent his thoughts on monogamy: actual blinders, like the kind that police horses wear, for a human. And I thought about that for a while afterwards, if I needed to put my blinders back on. If taking them off in the first place was a huge mistake.
I’ll spare you the gore-y details. Not because they wouldn’t be interesting or highly relevant to the nonexistent thesis of this story, but because they involve another person, Jane, who didn’t ask and doesn’t deserve to be exposed for all our messiness.
In short: after my conversation with boy #2 I was convinced that we needed to be poly, NOT open. I didn’t want to pursue extra marital affairs unless they could be deep, romantic and meaningful. I didn’t want one night stands. I wanted a free for all. I wanted everything. This disturbed Jane, who had thought we were on the same page about the whole poly thing, and who felt the rug had been suddenly pulled out from under her. So, after much back and forth between us, and out of fear for our relationship, we decided to stop this whole open thing. We were monogamous again before I had gotten so much as a make out session.
I texted guy #1 on the day before we were supposed to meet up to break the news. Mind you, the sexting hadn’t stopped and this was a full week’s worth of build up, a full week of sexting hours each day. Every morning we’d check in with each other with sweet nothings about how we couldn’t wait for Friday. ‘Just four more days...just three more...just two...just one more’—and then nothing. I was devastated. I had blue balls of the heart. I fell into a melodramatic malaise that Jane didn’t understand and which created yet more strife in
our no-longer-open relationship. We thought we should research more about poly relationships before ever attempting it again, and so we tore into r/nonmonogamy reddit, the Ethical Slut and podcasts by poly couples that made the whole thing seem positively nauseating. As much as I didn’t necessarily think an open relationship was a good idea, I couldn’t let it go. The blinders had come off and I couldn’t put the temptations away into the neat compartments of my mind. I keep thinking about this quote from the show The Trouble with the Fleichmans: “ that people who have affairs aren’t trying to betray their partners, and they’re not really in love with someone else, but they are trying to find who they are again.” My affair had been consensual—out in the open—but it was still an affair. I was running away from my relationship. I was running away from my life. I was relapsing. Couldn’t Jane understand that I needed this? I’m 26. Twenty. Six. That is, like, getting up there. I just want to fuck while I’m fuckable. I don’t want to go stale like a pastry you never eat because you assume it will still be there tomorrow. I explained this all to her. That I would never leave her, but I didn’t want to waste my youth either (I had already wasted so much of it. Or lost it rather, as the
result of a sexual assault that meant for many years I stopped desiring sex altogether). Jane agreed, hesitantly, that we could try it again. I was reformed this time around. My feelings had been dampened by the seriousness of our conversations. The highs were less high. Methadone instead of heroin. But I knew what I needed to do: I needed to get back the source. Guy #1. I texted him: “heyyy .” In my opinion it's not a bad re-entrance to a high octane sexting relationship that you ended because you're not gonna be open anymore...but now you ARE open again. And it’s all chill, don’t worry. He texted back immediately and seemed relatively unfazed by the whole thing. We were right back in it, planning a meet up for a Friday afternoon.
I wore a tennis skirt, tights and knee high socks (as per his request). The outfit existed in stark contrast to my usual go-to of flannels and black jeans. I allowed myself to bask in the ritual: shaving, lotioning, applying eyeliner, eyeshadow and mascara, pulling up my tights ever so gently so they don’t rip. On the train ride down to the city I felt dazed on nervousness and starvation. When he texted me to ask what kind of milk I liked (he was at the grocery store stocking up for my visit), it dawned on me just how often he did this sort of thing. When I arrived at Grand Central Station my bladder was exploding. I texted to let him know we could skip the coffee date formality, I needed to piss at his place. In person he looked more midwestern than his pictures. He was so tall it bordered on oafish. I wanted him to pick me up and twirl me around as if we were 19 year old newlyweds. Yet at the same time I felt deeply uneasy. As if we were meeting for the very first time. Because we were meeting for the first time, despite all the pictures we traded of our genitals. Somehow I had assumed we could just pick up from where we had left off in the texts. But, of course, real life is so much clumsier. We hadn’t timed it well. I arrived at 3 in the afternoon, which is a very alcoholic time
to start drinking. But, there was really no other way to assuage the awkwardness. His apartment looked exactly as you would expect a single dude living in the Lower East Side’s apartment to look. It was only missing the black leather sofa, but even that was coming soon—it was backordered and should arrive in February. There were no windows in the living room, but he had three, THREE, bedrooms all to himself. One was an office and the other was the piece de resistance: the guest room. It was the guest room that had most attracted me to this man. An easy out just in case I didn’t actually want to fuck him. Nothing sexier than a back up plan. We talked a lot that night. We didn’t go to sleep until maybe 5 in the morning and other than that we really just talked. Talked and fucked. I felt I could be myself in front of him, or at least the version of myself that I most enjoyed being. I slowly revealed my most titillating traumas over the course of the night like an emotional strip tease. His eyebrows raised in delight when I told him of my high school hijinks: club hopping at fifteen and being preyed upon by much older men that couldn’t take me to the next bar because of the obviousness of my fake ID. I had missed this. Being mysterious. Packaging my issues into intrigues, turning traumas into one-liners. It was like therapy. He, like Guy #2, was his own brand of polyamorous. He had been dating two women at once for a few years and had gone through break ups with both of them in the past six months. One of the women was still his best friend—they even went grocery shopping together—and I couldn’t tell if that was a green flag or the reddest flag of all. I liked that he was so open to being open. A man that doesn’t mind his girlfriend fucking other dudes is one that is at least slightly less controlling than
the others—right? As he explained it, his take on the whole poly thing: ‘if you love someone you want them to do what makes them happiest, and love who they love the most, even if that is not you.’ A romantic, c’est la vie attitude that I don’t disagree with but don’t know if I could embody it myself. I mean, sure, I would view things this way too if I were a wealthy, tall 36 year old straight man living in the Lower
East Side—but me and Jane need each other in a real, material way. Men can afford to be an island, it's one of their many privileges. I had missed men. I had missed being so much smaller than someone, softer. I missed the simplicity of being turned on by shoulders, arms, dick. I had missed being with someone who lived in an entirely different universe than me, who had life easy. Who loved me for my body NOT my personality. Who would fuck me, not make love to me. Who would forget about me. In the morning I woke up to a string of distressed texts from Jane and I knew that this open relationship thing was done for good. My vacation was over. It was Monday morning after PTO and my inbox was overflowing. I sent her all the assurances I could. I wasn’t worried because I knew I loved her. I had never questioned that for a moment. All I needed to do was get home and prove it to her. After a breakfast of coffee and sausage (when I saw the sizzling phallus in the pan I had to stop myself from saying anything juvenile), I was out the door. We had so much to say last night but in the morning we ate (or didn’t eat) in silence. Maybe it was the sobriety or maybe the knowledge we wouldn’t be seeing each other again. It wasn’t an awkward silence, more of a sad one. Part of me hoped he would forget I ever existed and part of me hoped he would get down on one knee right then and there. (I would say no of course, but it would have been a nice gesture.) He didn’t propose. He didn’t even walk me down the stairs, just leaned into his door frame and gave me a fuckboyish “see ya later.” I looked up at him and returned the nonchalant ‘see ya.’ Then ran down the stairs never to be seen again. I stepped onto the street that day feeling lighter, younger, freer, more metropolitan. A bit melancholic. A bit sore. I felt like I had left a tiny piece of my heart in his apartment that day—and the rest of my heart was waiting for me at home.