This column may contain strong language, sexual content, adult humor, and other themes that may not be suitable for minors. Parental guidance is strongly advised.
Last summer, a friend of mine embarked on a liaison with a man who lived in a different country. The liaison turned into a long-distance relationship, which survived for a few months, thanks to technology. In their case, love via WhatsApp conquered the brutal time difference and the brutal fact that he had been living with his long-term girlfriend all this time.
Rule number 1: Not all liaisons deserve to segue into a relationship.
It’s an irresistible romantic fantasy: travel to Paris and fall in love with a charming Frenchman. Long walks along the Seine, holding hands, dinner in a cozy bistro, faces lit by the candle’s glow, the endless hours of soul-baring conversation after epic sex… How could he not be the perfect, for-the-rest-of-your-life kind of man?
Admittedly, thanks to social media, it might be easier to vet a handsome stranger. Nevertheless, bagging a boyfriend as a travel souvenir when he should have remained a holiday fling is not always an easy thing to judge, seeing as you’re intoxicated with passion. Besides, having a holiday fling does not make you a slut, despite the temptation to legitimize the dalliance by turning it into a relationship.
Sheepishly, I must admit, I’ve done it myself, except in my case, I didn’t want to be HIS holiday fling. Blame vanity, not to mention some weird competitive streak, but I was all “I’ll be damned if he’s going to forget me once he gets back. I’m so not going to be his island souvenir!” Not consciously, of course, but I was, after all, a product of my bourgeois and judgmental Filipino upbringing: the girl you couldn’t forget, the one you would cross oceans to be with, the one you commit to, not discard after sex—that was me. And so I stayed ever so coyly in touch, sending emails and texts at just the right time, basically playing my cards so skillfully that soon he was panting to see me again.
And of course, through my subconscious machinations, it was inevitable that he would fall quite deeply in love with me. Our relationship lasted a couple of years but apart from the sex, we were fundamentally quite spectacularly mismatched, though he refused to believe so. I suppose I could have spared him the inevitable devastation when I left him by actually just chalking up our initial coupling to a fling that was fun and nothing more.
Rule number 2: A fling is not the most accurate gauge of character or sincerity.
As in my friend’s case, the fleeting moments they spent together on her European holiday convinced her that the dashing monsieur was her soulmate, notwithstanding the fact that he apparently had a girlfriend. Hours of conversation when she got back home seemed to reinforce this conviction; the next step would be for him to choose my friend and leave his girlfriend.
It never happened. He claimed he and his girlfriend had an open relationship. Perhaps he was telling the truth or perhaps he was just playing both women, never being completely honest with either one.
But if he was indeed in an open relationship, well…
Rule number 3: Never get emotionally involved with someone in an open relationship.
If someone says they’re in an open relationship, and you’re looking for an emotional commitment, heed the red flag, and move on. Despite the very obvious alarm bells clanging all throughout the bells of Italy, France, Portugal, Spain, and England, my friend wanted to believe that she was worth a man relinquishing the privilege of having his cake and eating it, too. She began to fantasize about the home they would set up in Provence, their gorgeous Eurasian children, the wine they would sip on their balcony every afternoon at sunset…
And then she wanted to know more about his long-term girlfriend, what she looked like, where she came from, what she studied at university, where she worked, if she was mean and jealous and spiteful or kind and caring, and if they still had sex, and was it good, or was it rote, did they really have a deep connection?
Someone in an open relationship playing around is often just casting about for sexual options. A few months back, I met a man who was very clear that he was not looking for a romantic relationship but more of an experimental sexual outlet, as he was in a long-term open relationship. At that particular point in time, our relationship goals were, shall we say, pretty much aligned; logistics, however, threatened to derail any plans to sleep together. Was I sexually attracted to him? Yes. Was I concerned that he was involved with someone else? Honestly, no. He’d said he was in an open relationship; if I ended up sleeping with him, it wasn’t my responsibility to seek permission from his girlfriend. Did I want to know about her, what she looked like, what she did? Not at all. I truly did not care.
Rule number 4: In an open relationship, you have to check your ego at the conjugal door.
Being in an open relationship requires an immense amount of trust, as well as an equally immense amount of ego suppression between the two parties involved. A recent piece in The New York Magazine’s The Cut section featured an interview between a husband and wife who had an open marriage which eventually precipitated their divorce. Having married relatively young, the wife felt she hadn’t adequately explored her sexuality, and the husband, though in love with his wife and satisfied with his domestic situation, which included three kids, reluctantly agreed, after much discussion, to changing the parameters of their marriage to allow each other the freedom to sleep with other people.
Lana was excited. “I wasn’t sure I’d act on it, but the option to be free was almost enough. The first man I hit on … well, this is really embarrassing, but I remember putting the vibe out there to one of my kid’s teachers. He did not respond well. He shut it down. I kinda liked how the rejection felt. At least it was something! The next guy I hit on was someone named Billy, a writer for a big magazine (which I thought was sooo cool) and a Buddhist … and he was game. And then there were a couple more.”
“The only rule,” David said, “was to tell each other anything we wanted to know. If I didn’t want to hear about it, that was that. If I wanted to hear every single detail, then I got it. With Billy, because it was our first time in the new situation, I stupidly asked for every detail. Let me tell you, those details still haunt me—and it’s been ten years. I can’t even talk to a Buddhist without wanting to barf.”
For Lara, the open nature of her marriage made it a more honest relationship. For David, however, it was completely unbearable. “Devastating. But I wasn’t going to put her on a leash like some dog. The only option was to break up the marriage and co-parent. The idea of divorce killed me, but her sleeping with other men was even more brutal than that.”
Which brings us to …
Rule number 5: An open relationship isn’t for everybody.
Sometimes sex is just sex; it doesn’t need to be coated in feelings beyond lust and attraction. But sex almost always has unintended consequences.
B. Wiser is the author of Making Love in Spanish, a novel published earlier this year by Anvil Publishing and available in National Book Store and Powerbooks, as well as online. When not assuming her Sasha Fierce alter-ego, she takes on the role of serious journalist and media consultant.
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Disclaimer: The views expressed here are solely those of the author in her private capacity and do not in any way represent the views of Preen.ph, or any other entity of the Inquirer Group of Companies.
Art by Dorothy Guya
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