A few years ago, when I was a bright-eyed junior at UC Berkeley, I wrote about how my boyfriend and I were going on a break before I left to study abroad in Spain. At the time we had been together for two years, and I remember the reaction I received - from friends and readers alike - who thought I was being unrealistic in thinking that I could hook up with a slew of Spanish men and return to my relationship unscathed.
Well, I'm happy to report that that three years (and many attractive foreign men) later, my boyfriend and I are still together and still as much in love as we were before - if not more so.
Though our relationship has passed the five-year mark, this is not to say that it has been without its difficulties. I'm not going to lie and say our relationship was full of sunshine and daisies after I got back from Spain, because it wasn't. We dated other people and, yes, slept with other people, and like any normal relationship there were fights and there was jealousy and there was crying - lots and lots of crying.
But in the end, there was and is always a decision - do we give up or do we work it out? And amidst all of the fights, we always chose each other. (Plus, it became kind of kinky to talk about the other people we'd had sex with while having sex with each other - how's that for dirty talk?)
In the two years that followed my trip to Spain we stayed in a mostly monogamous relationship, though there were a few occasions at parties where he gave me permission to kiss other people (and I, likewise, extended the same courtesy). However, since my boyfriend moved back to LA last September, we've returned to experimenting with the boundaries of our relationship, and we're currently in a long-distance, open relationship.
We don't have a timeline for when we'll no longer be long-distance, since I work in the tech industry (which is booming in San Francisco) and he works in the entertainment industry (which basically doesn't exist outside of Hollywood), but we have talked about moving to New York together within the next two or three years. As far as whether or not our open relationship will continue once we're back in the same city - it's kind of unknown. Though, it does seem hard to justify either of us sleeping with other people when the other is just a quick Metro ride away.
Most of the people who I talk to about our relationship are either really supportive or really confused. The confused ones often ask, "Why waste your time with other people if you have a good thing?" Others have admitted that they think it's hubris for my boyfriend and I to think that we can have our cake (each other) and have sex with other people on the side too.
I think that most of the people who question our relationship do so because they could never imagine themselves in the same situation, and that's perfectly fine. I don't think my boyfriend and I have the gold standard of relationships upon which all other relationships should mold themselves, and neither of us goes around telling other couples that they should try spicing things up a bit by sleeping with other people.
What it boils down to, at least for us, is communication - my boyfriend and I talk everyday, several times a day, to the point where my sister now rolls her eyes and says, "Again?! You just talked an hour ago," whenever she sees my boyfriend calling. We also have pretty specific "rules" in our open relationship (in contrast to the "anything goes" policy we had during our break when I was in Spain). The rules are as follows:
• Dates must be disclosed in advance.
• Potential suitors must know about the existence of the other person.
• Kissing is basically like shaking hands - doesn't need to be disclosed unless it leads into a date.
• Condoms must be used with all extraneous sexual partners.
We're so honest with each other that we rarely even fight anymore. I told him when I joined OkCupid, and he joined soon thereafter. We deactivated our OkCupid accounts somewhere around the same time, since neither of us had any luck meeting people in whom we were truly interested. A few months ago, when a trio of boys chatted up a couple of friends and I at a bar, I joked with him about it afterwards. We still talk to each other about our crushes, including one in particular that was so deep and overwhelming that I thought for sure it would tear us apart.
But even with the most destructive of crushes, honest communication was and is the key to making it work - in this particular scenario, my boyfriend ended up giving me permission to date this person despite his misgivings about the situation. The crush fizzled out anyway, but I had even more respect for my boyfriend afterwards for being so rational and levelheaded about it all.
When I envision the trajectory of my life, he is the one I see at the end. He will always be the person I choose when it comes down to it, and I know he feels the same.
So why not have some fun with other people along the way?
RELATED LINKS ON EMandLO.com:
Kristine deGuzman is now a Cal grad and a Senior Social Media Specialist at a PR agency in San Francisco. You can check out our personal blog here.