Russian Dolls and Non-Monogamous Boyfriends

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Russian Dolls and Non-Monogamous BoyfriendsWhen your friends tell you you need a boyfriend, you might need (to stop weeping over your lack of) a boyfriend, or they might just be concerned about your promiscuity, or you might need to stop humping their legs. When two out of your three current partners tell you you need a boyfriend, and the third offers to help you find one, you need a boyfriend.

There are two parts of this upon which I would like to expound; and two parts within each of those parts; and perhaps two parts within those, and so on and so forth. In fact, you may consider this the Russian Doll effect of non-monogamy.

It was swiftly made clear to me that the answer to “you need a boyfriend” is not “if you think I need a boyfriend then you should find me one” (especially if your current partners are dominant and sadistic) and it has taken me three talking-tos and the best part of a year to actually confess and profess that perhaps those I love might be right about this. It hasn’t taken so long solely because I’m stubborn – although I am – but also because it is by no means the easiest thing to hear. (Also: I will lightly skip the first and most obvious problem, but assure you that over tea and wine on the South Bank of the Thames, a friend and I have already loudly and sarcastically proclaimed that, oh yes, finding a boyfriend is just so easy. But let’s not go there.) Back to the matter – and sentence – in hand: it is, in fact, a statement that strikes a tricky equilibrium.

Coming from the mouths of people in whose beds and affection you share, the sentence “you need a boyfriend” or “you need to meet someone else” and all possible variations therein can’t help but translate in some small part as “you are too much for me” or “I don’t want as much as you want.” Even this has two sides to it; on the one hand the sting seems to be a symptom of a world in which monogamy is ever pervasive and therefore such statements feel like rejections. On the other hand, and especially in my case, it has been an interesting balancing act, because there is some truth to the idea that I am too much for my partners; that my needs and desires extend beyond the abilities of these relationships. But that does not mean that such statements are rejections. They are simply reminders that these relationships have limits, that all three of my partners have lovers that quite rightly take priority over me, and that requesting the attention and consideration of a primary partner has a somewhat unhealthy, perhaps even damaging, effect on a secondary relationship.

However – and in my better moments this is a very large ‘however’ – on the other side of these scales is something really wonderful; especially wonderful when you consider that I have three partners none of whom subscribe to or identify as non-monogamous in the ways I do, and therefore are primarily existing in the realm of monogamy (with its many demands and impositions). Despite that niggling fear of rejection, I actually do believe – know, even – that these statements are not indicative of rejection so much as they are indicative of the genuine care my partners have for me. All three are keen for me to have my desires met, because that’s what I need. I’m sure any positive effect that might have on our current relationships would be greatly appreciated, but I know it primarily comes from a place of genuine care for my best interests; and I certainly feel that when these two sides are stacked against one another – a fear of rejection vs. a sense of being truly considered – the latter bears far more weight.

The other notable part of this situation – or the next Russian Doll, if you will – actually does, in some ways, relate to that conversation I had on the South Bank; the one I so keenly attempted to avoid writing about: finding a committed, long-term, primary relationship is hard. Especially when you have already raised the bar with kink and non-monogamy: it feels a little like narrowing your search terms until the results are thin on the ground. But again, let’s not go there: I’m already well aware of the issues inherent in the specificity of my desires. More to the point, as I have discussed many times before, one of the things that is both challenging and wonderful about non-monogamy is the fact that it is not the common relationship structure in our society, and therefore it is not subject to quite as many rules and regulations as monogamy. Deciding to practice ethical non-monogamy already sets you outside the expectations of most relationships. Therefore you have less guidance to go on, but are afforded the freedom to forge your own path, to build your relationships exactly the way you want them. However, I think most ethical non-monogamists will tell you that they’ve read a few books, perhaps listened to a few podcasts, at least skimmed a few articles. I certainly have; and although I am a strong proponent of creating relationship structures that work for individuals, I will happily confess that when I read an essay or listen to a podcast created by someone who knows a lot about non-monogamy, I will take what they say under advisement. (It is not for nothing that I place such importance upon communication!) Along similar lines, I prefer not to go directly against advice from those who know better; and yet, right now, I find myself in a situation where I have to.

I think I can fairly say that most of the information I’ve found about non-monogamy (particularly when you’re just starting out) is about ‘opening up your relationship’, which leads to a lot of advice based on the premise that you are already in a committed relationship. Similarly, I have heard others say it’s a good idea to be in a relationship for a while before you attempt to open it up. For three, loving, wonderful, and obvious reasons, this advice is not going to work for me. I understand why people recommend it; not only does it allow you to focus on one relationship and therefore give it the time to grow before making things more logistically complicated, but longevity has an effect too: I’m not entirely sure how it feels to be the primary partner of someone who has secondary partners who have been around longer. These, of course, are not insurmountable issues, but they certainly make matters more difficult, and, as I mentioned before, there seems to be very little advice out there for this state of affairs.

I’m not entirely sure where this leaves me, but I will say that once you have confessed to yourself (and others) that you need a primary partner, not having one is much more difficult; and I mean difficult on an emotional level that already transcends the concrete, logistical issues I’ve actually been discussing. (As they say, never underestimate the power of denial!) But on the other hand, I can’t in all good conscience begrudge the honesty of that confession, nor the people who have pushed me towards it, because there is something very nourishing about seeking to fulfil a heartfelt need. All I really know is that we as humans sure don’t make life easy for ourselves, and although I would say I am really quite happy at the moment, I also feel myself to be a deeply complex creature.

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Harper Eliot is a writer and podcaster whose work mainly centers around eroticism and social observation. You can find an archive of work, and links to all her other projects, on her website Harper Eliot. Harper lives in London, but rarely sees her own house, spending most of her time on public transport, listening to podcasts and tweeting too much. Her vices include cigarettes, lubricant, Earl Grey tea, opera, nail polish, and pinwheels.

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