Monday, November 4, 2013

Learning to Let Go in Open Relationships

Dear Viny,

I have been in casual open relationships the majority of my dating life, and believe that some version of openness will always make sense for me in relationship. However, I recently became involved with someone who I feel more emotionally and spiritually invested in than I have in the past, and could see spending my life with this person as a romantic partner. Acknowledging this level of intimacy and connection has brought up insecurities and fears around being open. I have not experienced these feelings of insecurity or jealousy in the past and it feels uncomfortable and unnatural for me to be worried about my partner sharing a sexual or intimate experience with another person. How do I work through and let go of these feelings while maintaining an open relationship that is based in love instead of expectation?

Unexpectedly Attached


Dear Attached,

It's fascinating to me that you use the word “unnatural” to describe the anxiety you feel when you contemplate sharing your partner with other lovers s/he may have, either now or in the future. Yes, it's true that, as a former English teacher, I get all tingly when I see an opportunity for textual analysis. Maybe I'm reading too much into that one little word.

However, I'm pretty sure that a lot of people – and not just those in the monogamous mainstream, either! – would say it's only natural to feel worried about your partner being sexually or romantically involved with anyone who isn't you. The more invested in the relationship you are, the more you stand to lose; and the more you stand to lose, the more worried you're likely to feel. That's the nature of attachment.

Even though I have been in multiple open relationships for most of my adult life, and even though I haven't had a single lover I haven't had to learn to share with others, I still experience jealousy – sometimes over the stupidest things. Like, for example, when one of my partners was having a rough time recently, and he unburdened himself in a long email he sent to someone else: my kneejerk response was a pouty, “How come I didn't get a long email? You could have at least cc'd me!” Or just last night, when I got a text from my boyfriend about what a great visit he and his wife were having with some friends of theirs: as crazy as it sounds, I actually experienced a moment of unexplainable panic.

I agree with you that jealousy is an uncomfortable feeling. No, wait, let me rephrase that: jealousy SUCKS. And not at ALL in a good way. Nevertheless, my experiences of jealousy have taught me something valuable:

The only way to get over a negative feeling is to go through it.

Last night, when I noticed that my heart rate had gone up – over someone else's dinner party – I could have fought my panicky feelings. If I were the type of person who tended to blame others for my jealousy, I might have gotten angry at my boyfriend: “If you really loved me, you wouldn't do things that make me feel anxious!” More reasonably, perhaps, I could have directed this anger at myself: “What's wrong with me?! I am such a lame-o! Why can't I get a grip?” However, I didn't get angry. I simply noticed my anxiety and allowed myself to feel it. Luckily, my jealousy has a pretty short half-life these days. It's taken some practice, but I have learned that accepting my negative feelings – just letting them be – is the shortest route to a better state of mind.

It sounds like you are used to thinking of yourself a certain way: as a secure person, one who doesn't get jealous. Maybe that's why these new feelings seem “unnatural” to you. I can certainly understand your dismay. But I wonder if you are expecting too much of yourself. Letting go of an outmoded self-concept, and loving yourself for who you are right now – even if that someone isn't quite as cool with sharing your partner as you'd ideally like to be – might be a good first step.

We're human, so it's natural for us to fear losing someone we love. We can protect ourselves from this fear by refusing to give ourselves completely, or by giving ourselves only after we have secured the perimeter with razor wire and stationed guards in every tower. Or we can choose to open ourselves to love, knowing full well that we are also opening ourselves to loss.

Not just the possibility of loss. The inevitability of loss.

It's difficult to let go of the desire for some kind of guarantee, a promise that those we love are never going to leave us. But since no one can promise anything on behalf of a future self, and since no one lives forever, there is no such guarantee. We are all adrift in a sea of uncertainties about the future, whether we choose to acknowledge it or not. Make yourself at home in that ebb and flow, trust in your own ability to swim, and the water will buoy you up. 

Love and luck,


  1. this is great!! thanks for your insight and wisdom!

  2. "Luckily, my jealousy has a pretty short half-life these days." I have mine down to a pouty "pooh!" :P