It’s not completely true that this my very first attempt at an open relationship, it’s just my first non-half-assed one. After and T and I broke up, a few months later I ran into M online, and a couple of messages sparked into some rather hot exchanges and then led to an incredible weekend in Chicago. After that, we kept exchanging messages, and clearly were into one another, but a combination of my skittishness about getting involved and her flightiness led to, well, never seeing each other again.
In retrospect, I was clearly rebounding, and I think she was, too. Still, it was painful when she started finding new people and I did not, the latter for reasons previously covered. At the same time, I couldn’t express that to her, because I was worried about getting too attached, and was desperate to avoid spending another ten years stuck monogamous relationships. It wasn’t a rational fear, of course, but I was terrified of finding myself 40 years old and still unaware of what it’s like to be single.
M didn’t help, though. Either she was very bad at understanding the things that I needed help to get past, or she was uninterested in helping me through them; I’m honestly not sure which. We both seemed to be seriously interested in one another in the beginning, and I think that faded faster for her than me, but again I’m not sure. She once told me that she’d let me know if she ever lost interest in me, and she still hasn’t said so, but we haven’t seen each other in almost two years, so I’m reasonably certain that’s gone on her side. It’s certainly gone on mine.
To be fair, it surely didn’t help that I was, and am, terrible about expressing actual vulnerabilities. I’m not talking about the usual bullshit machismo no-one-sees-me-cry stuff; showing my emotions isn’t a vulnerability. It’s very hard to tell someone, “If/when you do this, it hurts me,” because that gives them power over me. It’s hard to say, “If you were to do that, I would feel better,” because then I feel beholden to them. I never managed to say to M, “I really like you, and it doesn’t hurt me when you see other people, but I still need you to make me feel like I matter to you”. Thus, either because I didn’t say that, or because she didn’t want to, she didn’t do so.
So that abortive attempt at an “open relationship” didn’t really even succeed in being a relationship, just a one night stand bracketed by a lot of e-mail. It was worthwhile for te days we spent together, and useful for learning about myself, but made for a couple of painful months afterward.
The two relationships aren’t really analogous–this is much more serious, we’re more explicitly committed, we have a lot more in common, and we’ve seen each other more than twice–but having that experience on my resume has been useful for getting involved with Carrie. It left me with some knowledge of the things that I need to ask for, the things that I need to disclose, and the things that I just have to steel myself to. It also helps that Carrie’s been excellent about listening and is capable of picking out issues that I haven’t fully realized myself. Additionally, I’m much better–although not at all “good”–about being vulnerable here, and about telling her what’s going on in my head.
This is a much better experience, made better by the earlier less-good experience. At the same time, flashes of what happened the last time I tried anything at all like this occasionally give me pause in the current relationship. Like everything else that happens to someone, it colors what comes after. It doesn’t govern it, though.
One of these days, I’ll write a post about what’s awesome in my life as opposed to things that hurt. I’m really a rather happy person, and I feel like this blog is a poor lens through which to see that.