One of the little oddities about being in an open relationship is relearning how to deal with the urge to look. It’s no longer entirely forbidden, and I’m with someone who won’t mind–provided I don’t constantly drop out of conversation to ogle. It’s no less rude than it was before, though, and to some extent having lost the taboo makes it more ambiguous as to when it’s okay.
I don’t know how other people experience the urge to stare at folks they find attractive. To me the sense is almost like a physical force, like something has grabbed me by the back of the head and is directing where I look. It isn’t a thing that I’m doing on purpose much as a thing that I have to resist consciously. And I do, because I find it problematic–for all the high-minded reasons, of course, but also just a sort of personal resentment of my own lizard brain’s attempts to usurp control, damn it. I also do it for the people I’m with, because there is little I find more annoying about having conversations in a group of straight men than that point when an attractive woman walks by and all discussion ceases until she’s out of view jesus christ can you not control yourselves we were having a really interesting epistemological debate no stop elbowing each other why do you think this is something you should congratulate you should not lose all ability to articulate just because someone in short shorts is stretching nearby.
Anyway. I mean, I do get it, because I know how it feels for me on the back end of those eyes, but it’s still frustrating. It’s something I associate with straight (or straightish) men because that’s when I see it the most; if I’m with a group of mixed genders or orientations, no one feels comfortable letting loose like that. I have no doubt that other homogeneous groups have similar tendencies on their own. And as annoying as it is, when I’m by myself and not publicly visible, in my car or behind a pair of sunglasses, it’s a bit like finally standing on solid ground after treading water for hours. I don’t have to resist that force any more.
So, on two ends, I know what to do: in company, do not ogle (to the extent that is possible); while alone, ogle freely if you won’t get caught. Being out with someone I’m seeing used to have such a clearly defined line, which made it–not easy, but simple. Now, when the lizard grabs my neck while I’m out with someone I’m seeing, there’s a moment of confusion. What do I do here? Okay, keep talking and don’t look away if she’s talking but right now we’re just looking at the menu but I’m kind of in public and also I’m sure the waitstaff is sick of being stared at because holy crap they’re all really attractive in here and okay let’s just keep looking at the menu until the words resolve again.
Rule of thumb: if you are moving from a monogamous relationship into a nonmonogamous one, the skillset you need is the same but everything is going to be about five times as complicated. It’s worth it, but only if it’s really important to you.
This is one of a list of things that I’m a little uncomfortable with about myself, most of which are in some way traditionally “masculine”. I try to be conscious about gender and performance, and especially those things that people consider “men’s things” but I know are in fact either socialization or just tendencies. It just bothers me to be so traditional in these ways. But oh my asses are awesome.
Edited to add: this post is awfully gazey of me, I know, and I apologize for that. I’d love it to be as neutral as possible, but the fact of the matter is that it’s mostly about a mostly straight guy looking at mostly women. Although it is in fact about a mostly straight guy mostly not looking at mostly women, and the fact that that’s physically difficult. I don’t know a way of addressing this with more delicacy that I’ve used here, and it’s something I want to talk about, but I know it has the potential to be discomfiting.