A (non)monogamous memoir
When I met my now husband, let’s call him Jack, I was nineteen years old and completely confused about my sexuality. I was straight, lesbian, bi. At times, I wondered, even asexual.
Bingeing on a literary diet of Anais Nin’s journals, I dreamed of a life where I didn’t have to choose, didn’t have to conform. I thought I would float through my days and years from lover to lover. Male, female, it didn’t matter.
I knew I wanted to have children, and that I was going to be a mother, but even that didn’t deter me from the lifestyle I thought I wanted. Like many a naïve young woman, I figured children would simply fold into my chosen story. I would worry about that part later.
When Jack and I met, I was infatuated with a girl from one of my tutorials at university. It was the first time I had really entertained the idea of pursuing a relationship with another woman. I recognised early on that I was attracted to girls. I admired their beauty, their fragility, their strength. There had been stolen kisses and crushes and not much else.
The object of my affection had a boyfriend, and I found myself confiding in Jack of my envy; the strange envy of another man possessing a woman I thought I wanted. The infatuation passed, as infatuations tend to do, and Jack and I eventually embarked on a casual sexual relationship.
Jack was safe. Completely non-threatening. He had just come out of a seven-year relationship which left him stifled and stale. He too craved freedom.
He would listen to my rants about not wanting to be tied down, wanting the ability to choose when and where and who I loved. He would smile with the wisdom of someone a little older, a little more world-weary, and a little more versed in the language of relationships.
Still he listened and respected my views. We fell madly and stupidly in love. That bit I didn’t see coming.
It was a crashing, all-consuming, dizzying love. Cruelly, I felt, my first love. I had no frame of reference. Was this the love that everyone talks of? Was he, in fact, The One? Were my ideas of living and loving completely wrong?
Our casual encounters became not-so-casual, and soon we were living together, sharing an apartment, a cat, a life. I waited to feel trapped. To feel suffocated. To feel as though I was missing something, or someone. Yet I didn’t. What did this mean?
Jack prided himself on being the man who ‘tamed’ me. The man who ‘turned’ me. And as irritating as I found it, in a sense he was right.
He made me reassess and re-evaluate the life I thought I wanted. I wanted to grow old with one person. I didn’t just want children, I wanted a family. A proper family. And Marriage. And a Mortgage. And stability. What had he done?
About a year into our relationship, Jack and I began to map out our future together. I knew I wanted to marry him. By then, it was a given. Jack felt the same way, but he was nervous. He knew the old me too well. The free-spirited, sexually adventurous, idealistic me, who never really had the chance to act on the life she thought she’d aspired to.
‘What if you decide to leave me for another woman when you’re 40?’ he said. ‘How can you be sure that I’m what you want?’
I often wondered what it would have been like if I had met Jack a few years later, with a few more experiences imprinted on my heart and on my skin. We talked. We laughed. We cried. We discussed going on a ‘break’ for a few months so that I could go out and be with other people. And yet the idea of this, of messing with something that worked so well already, made us both recoil.
Jack wanted me to experience sex outside of love. Not the awkward, self-conscious, teenage fumbling I had known before him. Grown-up sex. And he wanted me to be with another woman, to make sure I knew who I was, what I was, and what I was agreeing to.
For him, marriage was serious. A lifetime commitment. There was no room for error. So we came up with a plan. And some rules.
While Jack was happy to allow me the freedom to explore a different and potentially undeveloped side of me, he felt more comfortable sending me off to play with a couple than with a single man or a single woman. For him it was less threatening. Safer.
Although not particularly jealous by nature, Jack confided that his preference was to share me with a couple who were already attached to one another and confident in their relationship. It would be a one off – emotion free. I was in.
So we flirted with the world of online sex and sexual couplings. Together we trawled through profiles, exchanged ‘kisses’ and ‘winks’ and eventually photos. It took about three months of searching but I found them: a seemingly ‘normal’ couple, who were attractive, intelligent and sexy.
A date was set. A dress was picked. High heels were donned.
I met the couple at a pub in the city where we drank and talked and laughed. They were amazed at my courage and I was fascinated with their stories, their tales of ‘the scene’. Unlike me, they had had sex with strangers many times before, with varying degrees of success. It was exhilarating. Terrifying. A window into a whole new world.
That night, back at their small inner-city apartment, I discovered that I was definitely bisexual, that I enjoyed being with a woman and that sex with a man who I didn’t love was different; clumsier, but fun — unpredictable.
And I realised that the man I was to marry, the man I had chosen, had given me an experience I would never forget. I felt consolidated. The carefully gathered answers about my sexuality, my identity, buoyed me with a new confidence. A new sexiness.
We married, and we had a baby. It wasn’t the story I’d ever imagined for myself, and yet I suspect we will never follow the dominant story either. While we firmly believe in ‘until death do us part,’ our marriage and our little family unit are still evolving. We continue to come up with our own rules, realistic about the nature of love, of commitment, and of the ebb and flow of sexual attraction in long-term relationships.
Together we are keeping our minds open to the possibilities as we go, crafting our own forever story and our own version of monogamously ever after.