Thursday, July 23, 2015

"When an Open Relationship Comes at a Price"

Credit: Brian Rea
"During college, I spent a few wonderful evenings making out with a longhaired poet. I spent a few weeks messing around with a gentle, funny religion student. I even briefly, if accidentally, dated a high school student (since when do 17-year-olds have beards?).

"This is what you do in college. No longer tethered to childhood routines and unburdened by the judgments and prejudices of people who know you best, you explore and experiment, sampling new ideologies, new points of view. New people.

"So I sampled, freely and happily. But my situation was different from most: I also had a serious boyfriend at the time. Serious, as in we lived together. We owned two cats together. I wasn’t breaking any rules, however. We had an open relationship.

"It was a complete disaster.

"My boyfriend and I met in Introduction to Philosophy. He was dark-haired, charming and endearingly weird, one of those passionate, articulate boys who live life in superlatives. The music he listened to was the best of all possible music. The books he read stood at the pinnacle of literature. He himself was going to be the greatest philosopher of his generation.

"I know, I know. But I was only 18! I was, and still am, a sucker for a quick wit, a raucous laugh and a big brain. Moreover, my boyfriend was generous with his grand convictions: The people he surrounded himself with were destined for greatness, too. Loved by him, I felt swathed in glory.

"Inseparable from the start, he and I explored the new world of our university together, attending readings, plays and concerts. We ate pie and sushi. We drank gin and lemonade. I spent the summer in his hometown, falling under the spell of his courtly father and gracious mother. Back on campus in the fall, he and I moved in together, filling a ramshackle apartment with music posters and thrift-store furniture.

"Cue the cats. Cue domesticity.

"Or rather, don’t. My boyfriend was committed to living his life according to strict intellectual principles, and for him, personal freedom was paramount. Love could not require constraint, foreclosure or deprivation. He argued that even though we planned a future together, we should always permit each other to do as we pleased, including dating other people.

"Whoa, sorry, what? I was from a small town in Illinois. My idea of romance was as conventional as could be, involving me and my boyfriend “sitting in a tree, k-i-s-s-i-n-g.” First comes love, then comes marriage, and so on.

"Or was there? I wasn’t on the playground anymore. I was supposed to be exploring, experimenting, sampling new perspectives. I wasn’t a philosopher like my boyfriend, but I was studying English literature, including Percy Bysshe Shelley.

"As he wrote: 'True Love in this differs from gold and clay, / That to divide is not to take away.'
Shelley railed against the prevailing morality that demanded lovers marry and be monogamous, and so travel 'the broad highway of the world … / With one chained friend.'

"One chained friend. Sounds like fun.

"I had no wish to shackle anyone to me, especially not the person I loved best. I didn’t want to concede — by being possessive, by demanding fidelity — that my love was anything less than capital-T True. If an open relationship was necessary to prove how well I loved my boyfriend, I was happy to comply.

"Thus we were off on our grand romantic adventure."

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