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In Rio de Janeiro, she decided to go hang gliding. Running towards a cliff’s edge proved difficult. There have been times in the lifestyle when she thinks the same dynamic is at play.
As a tourist, I jumped off of a cliff, hang-glided (tandem), and landed on the beach below. Simple. Scary. Running towards a cliff’s edge proved difficult. There have been times in the lifestyle that I think the same dynamic is at play. Mentally, something seems fun, but there is a fear that is holding me back. It may not be as obvious as the ramp off of a cliff, but the fear may be just as real.
When I was in Rio de Janeiro, I decided to go hang gliding, which was one of the main tourist things to do there. You jump off the side of a mountain, fly around for a while, and then land on the beach below. Simple. Scary. I was nervous, but I generally have confidence in the people who do this every day, taking hundreds of tourists off of the same cliffs. My instructor spoke good English, and I felt comfortable about our adventure together. Once we were strapped onto the hang glider together, he explained how we were going to be running off of the ramp in front of us. He started to get very excited — like a coach during the halftime of a close game — really pumping me up. “You can do this!” He was looking me in the eyes and stating over and over how I needed to run my hardest, “Give it everything you’ve got!” To the extent that in my head, I was like, “Dude. OK, I got it. Run hard off the ramp.” He continued to pump me up until we finally started running toward the end of the ramp. I immediately understood. My brain understood that I was to run fast toward the cliff’s edge. My body sort of overrode that decision. My bodily systems were saying, “I don’t know if you see what I see, but there is NOTHING on the other side of that ramp. You think I’m running towards death? Um, no.” So, my running start was a product of two competing forces: go like hell and STOP!! We had an ‘OK’ take-off, as he put it.
The hang gliding was pretty fantastic, in my opinion, but evidently, it could have been better. If only I could have conjured all of the courage to run towards a cliff’s edge. There have been times in the lifestyle that I think the same dynamic is happening. Mentally, something seems fun or “not that different from other times,” but there is a fear that is holding me back. It may not be as obvious as the ramp to oblivion, but the fear may be just as real.
We love our friends, and we aren’t “in a relationship” with them.
My husband and I have always been in alignment that we were not interested in a polyamorous relationship. In the very beginning, we didn’t even know we were going to make friends with people because we thought the way it happened was that you didn’t see people again — in order to maintain any emotional detachment. That seems ridiculous now — all of our friends are in the lifestyle at this point, and we play with them often. We love our friends, and we aren’t “in a relationship” with them.
When I started to see a particular guy that I liked being with, my husband’s alarm bells started going off. This friend and his wife didn’t often play together, so I would mostly see him when I had nights out on my own. “This seems like it is turning into a boyfriend,” he said. I knew it wasn’t, as I didn’t have those kinds of feelings for him. I just liked him as a friend, but the situation felt threatening to my husband. I started seeing him less because I knew it caused my husband a lot of stress, and it just didn’t seem worth it.
My body was a yes — my brain was the no.
When we had been in lifestyle a while longer, my husband went down this same path with a woman he had a great connection with. We had met them as a couple, but they divorced, so then she was single. She didn’t live in the same town as us, but in a town we often travel to, so there were lots of opportunities for meet-ups. I felt myself have the same reaction — accusing him of creating a girlfriend relationship. He would say he wasn’t. He didn’t stop seeing her; in fact, he kept inviting her places. Always with my consent, of course. I would say consent with some reservation. I liked hanging out with her, too, but it was like my brain was understanding that I should run toward something, but my body was saying, “Hell no.” Although it was opposite, I loved it when the three of us played together — so my body was a yes — my brain was the no because of the fear of the path we were going down.
Fast forward through several arguments (I was angry that I had stopped seeing my guy, and he didn’t do the same), and a couple of emotional breakdowns around this particular relationship. I even had what I would call my biggest emotional breakdown of my life around this issue. In that moment of our fight / breakdown, I could not breathe, and I thought I was going to die. I didn’t see how our marriage was going to continue. I felt like he was asking me to run down a ramp toward having a girlfriend, and I did not want that. To me, the end of the ramp was truly the unknown. Oblivion. We were working with a therapist at the time, and we muddled through that entire incident. What was the most difficult for me to admit was that, in that moment, I thought our marriage was over (he never thought that, BTW). I thought I was going to die. That ended up feeling really embarrassing to me. I mean, I know I love my husband, but really, I thought I would die without him?! That is not who I knew myself to be. I’ve since learned, or better understood, that that is actually what a committed relationship is: allowing ourselves to love someone so much that we think we might die without them (at least metaphorically). Embarrassing. Really fucking vulnerable. Like trusting some guy I just met to fly a contraption that would save us from falling off of a cliff’s edge.
When we find someone who fits with both of us, it’s pretty magical. It’s like running off the end of a ramp and actually flying.
The simplified version of this story is that I confronted my fears, and my husband and I had some heart-to-hearts that were needed and overdue. We both recognized that there are a lot of things to unlearn and rewire when participating in non-monogamy since it is contrary to the culture that we live and grew up in. We are so wired we don’t even realize something is a belief until something forces us to question it. My rewiring was understanding that there is not just friend and girlfriend. Technically, she is an FWB (Friend With Benefits), but there just aren’t enough terms to capture all of the types of relationships that are created in the lifestyle. Our culture’s language was built around mono-normativity, so I had grown up understanding that when in a relationship, there are friends of your partner, and then beyond that, there are threats. Once I realized this, I stopped seeing her as a threat, and I was able to accept our relationship’s nuances.
I should also mention that I’ve seen that trust is always something that has to be built — monogamy or not — in friendship and romantic connections. It simply takes time to build this trust amongst all of the parties involved. I kept running toward the end of the ramp, and it got easier every time because of trust. In fact, I grew to see that she wasn’t just his FWB (or whatever we wanted to call it) but also mine. That was something I didn’t realize was going to cushion the leap. I became willing to see and accept that someone else actually added to our own love for each other. These other connections sparked something and brought out a part of him that we, as a couple, benefitted tremendously from. Needed, even. I had to admit something to myself that is difficult for our egos to accept and is, ultimately, the crux of non-monogamy: that we may not (or even cannot) be everything to our partner. I wonder if this alone is what drives much of the negativity towards ENM (Ethical Non-Monogamy) — this underlying fear of not being everything to one’s partner.
There have been similar dynamics since that one. I feel fearful in the beginning again. Not like the first time (I have never dissolved to a point of thinking I might die), but as with all relationships, it just takes time to get to know someone, to trust someone, to invite them into our lives. When we find someone who fits with both of us, it’s pretty magical. It’s like running off the end of a ramp and actually flying.