Open and Honest – Part I
“Before things get any more serious,” she says, “I have something I need to tell you.”
I can feel my heart speed up, my breath shallow. In my head, I’m lost as to where this is going. I try to keep calm and consider the circumstances.
It had been a few weeks since I had asked her out and yet we still hadn’t been on an actual date. We hadn’t kissed, despite my awkward desire. We hadn’t embraced more than momentarily. We were perfect strangers. Yet here we were, sitting in her car after a wonderful evening of conversation with friends, my exhausted mind and body faced with a “serious talk.”
“Ok,” I say though my strained calmness, tilting my head curiously like a dog.
A deep breath of anticipation rises in her chest as she turns and looks me in the eye. “I’m in an open relationship.”
I flash through the dozen or so examples I had encountered. I think of my friends who had taken that route to keep themselves happy. I think of the struggles that they had encountered. I think of all the drama the effort had caused.
And I wonder what set of circumstances has brought her to this point.
“Ok,” I say, my mind reeling, my heart aching.
“Exclusivity isn’t an option,” she continues, the phrase glowing in front of my serial monogomist eyes.
I let it sit for a moment as she examines me. I wonder if she can see the cracks, if I look as much a deer in headlights as I feel. The permutations and calculations run through my brain. I crunch numbers and statistics and possibilities, and all of these things are happening too quickly for me to process.
“I’ll need some time to mull this,” I say. “Thank you for your honesty.”
She laughs uncomfortably. “Honesty is the only way this works.”
I slip out of the car and escape to my room. Flopping on my bed, I lay there wondering what this means.
Upside: she likes me enough to tell me this now. I must be doing something right.
Downside: I don’t know if I’m capable of this. I don’t know what the situation really is. I… I don’t know.
“Dude, cut and run. You don’t want that,” a friend tells me.
As soon as he says it, I know he is wrong. I want her. More than anything, I want her. The question isn’t the want, it’s what I get if I pursue her. And that is the mystery.
My competitive nature has always been dangerous. I don’t gamble because I like to win, I like to prove that I’m capable, that I’m better. And when I lose, I try harder, I come back stronger, and I improve. With gambling, that improvement has too high a cost, and games are slanted against me.
In relationships, I’ve often felt the same way. I have plenty to offer. I work hard and have value. But compared to the values around me, the flare of a beautiful body or face, the external plumage that attracts, my value is hidden and intrinsic and slow to appear. How can I compete with that?
And, in her case, how can I compete at all when there’s a non-competition clause already on the table?
I know plenty of people who would enter an open relationship with the idea that they could somehow usurp her from the others, make her believe in monogamy, in exclusivity. But the idea is disingenuous and disrespectful.
I might not be able to help feeling jealous or scared or sad when she heads off with her other halves or thirds or quarters, but I can at least respect the agreement to let her do so.
“Keep an open mind,” another friend tells me.
How can I not? After all, it’s all new territory to me. I am unsure of the boundaries, unsure of what sort of commitment to expect, unsure of her and of myself.
Certainty is not an option.
I wait, heart beating fast, legs shaking slightly, resolved to at least explore the possibilities.
“Hey,” I say.
“Hey,” she replies, her eyes boring into me expectantly as she turns.
“I’d still like to take you to dinner,” I tell her. It feels like a whisper, though I know I said it clearly. “This isn’t exactly something I’m used to.”
“It’s a weird situation,” she offers.
“I have a lot of questions, so just as a warning, dinner may turn into me picking your brain.”
“I was a little surprised you didn’t have questions last night,” she says.
“Sorry about that. I was really tired. I needed time to think. But I still owe you dinner.”
She smiles and laughs. And I feel the warmth radiating from her eyes.
It’s a perfect moment of awkward silence in the car. My chest hurts with worry. I had run through the scenarios, talked with friends, thought long and hard about what might or might not be.
“So I’m tempted to talk about your relationship status and what that means now, but I’m afraid we won’t have time.” The drive down the canyon lasts about 35 minutes, and we are already a quarter of the way down. It had been a week since I had resolved to at least test the waters.
“We could do that,” she says, her eyes calmly remaining on the road.
“Ok,” I say, my heartrate increasing alongside my nerves. I want to gauge her interest, discover her boundaries, see where things really lay. I fear the answers I may receive. “I’ve had a few friends in open relationships, but despite that, I don’t really know what it means for you. I’ve never really been in a situation like this.”
“It’s a weird situation,” she says, echoing her comment from before.
“So what is your level of commitment to him; and what can your level of commitment to me be?”
She sits there, winding around the next curve, and I listen to the road as it rumbles beneath us.
“You’re shiny and new,” she breaks in. I try to stifle the smile. “Right now, he takes priority.”
“Of course,” I say. I expect no less.
“But if I end up spending more time with you than with him, I’ll have to sit down and have a talk with him, or with you, or with both of you.”
“I’m not sure how comfortable I’d be with that.” The sound of the road takes over once more as I contemplate my next question. There are so many things I am afraid to say, so many things to which I am afraid to hear the answer.
Finally, I break the silence. “Why are you in an open relationship?” I ask. “I mean, I’m a serial monogamist. I’ve always focused on one person.”
“I’m still young,” she replies. “I’m not ready to settle down. It’s not what I want. And he’s not the right guy in the long-term. But we’ve been through some things together, and I care about him a lot.”
I don’t know why, but her explanation gives me hope. Perhaps we won’t be just a side thing, a fling, a dalliance. Maybe I won’t be a second fiddle, but my own part. Certainly, I won’t be the one—how could I be—but perhaps the relationship won’t be a purely physical one, like the fuck buddy situations I had loathed in my college years. I wonder if my relief was palpable and visible.
“I can understand that. Our age difference definitely worries me. I’m at a stage of my life where I want to settle down, have kids, be in a committed relationship.”
“I’m not there yet,” she interjects.
“But at the same time, I want to go to New Zealand for the summer. I want to travel. I don’t know if I’ll be in Colorado next winter, let alone Boulder. I want to go to grad school. And I feel like, at best, I’m a three-month rental no matter what I do.”
“Wait, how old are you?”
“How old do you think I am?”
“Late twenties, maybe twenty-eight.”
“Try thirty-two.” She glances sidelong at me, eyes narrowing as she measures me for a fleeting moment.
“How old am I?”
“Twenty-four, twenty-five,” I say.
“Yep,” she says with mild disappointment.
We sit, moving with traffic, the time seeming to drag for ages. I’m pleased, excited at the prospect, more comfortable with the situation, and my fears have shifted from the nature of her other gentleman to the nature of myself.
“I guess all I have left are my fears and baggage,” I say after a moment.
“We all do,” she says.
But mine have been mine alone for so long, I think. I can’t decide if I should reveal them here and now, open the floodgates and get things out in the open. It had been over a year since my last date; over five years since I last slept with a woman. In that time, I had lost over a hundred pounds, had surgery for a hernia leaving a scar and tenderness in my groin, become a completely different, nearly unrecognizable person. I remember stories of people admitting their virginity and scaring off their relational targets. And while I am no virgin by any means, it had been so long it practically feels so.
“I’m not sure I can do something casual. I’ve always had a need for an emotional connection. I’m afraid my shit will be more than you want to deal with, or that I’ll become too attached.”
“Those are the same for just about any relationship.”
“True,” I reply. “But I’m afraid that I won’t be able to do this. I’m willing to give it a shot, but I don’t want to be that asshole who says I can do the open relationship thing but think in the back of my mind that I can convince you to just be with me.”
“Thank you,” she says, mildly surprised.
“But I also don’t want an open relationship.” I let the sentence hang in the air for a moment. “So let me take you out to dinner, since I owe you that much, and we’ll see where things go.”
We pull out of the canyon, the quiet in the car at once heavy and light. As I slip out of the car heading our separate ways, I look her in the eye. She looks only slightly more comfortable than I feel.
“Thank you,” I say.
“Sure. See you later.”
“I hope so.”
Her smile is the last thing I want to see; I’m afraid of how it’ll make me feel, afraid of what I might do. Already, I know that every one of my fears is altogether too real. I will get too attached. I will fall far harder than she wants me to. And if things go well, I will be happier than I’ve ever been in forever, even if it’s only for a time.
It takes all my willpower not to look back, but I can’t help but feel elated as I look forward.
Open and Honest – Part II