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It's Fun To Kiss Your Friends

What being in an open relationship has taught me

I love my partner. He and I met right at the start of first year and bonded over our mutual love of REM (the greatest American band of all time), Bernie Sanders, and The Simpsons. As of Monday 11 March, we have been together for two and a half wonderful years; and for the entirety of that time, we have been in an open relationship. 

I usually take for granted how uncommon that is. Myself and many friends being in the queer community, I have found myself confronted with open relationships and polyamory to an above-average extent. For me, this has been fantastic. Not only have I been surrounded by extremely supportive and understanding people, but I have also very often been able to kiss them. Hooray for gay people!

This, of course, is not the standard experience. And it was a recent reminder of that fact that inspired me to start thinking deeply about what it really means to be in an open relationship. A lot of what it has taught me goes right to the core of my ideas of love, sex, trust, and what it means to be a man; and I’d like to share why I think choosing to be open has been one of the best things I’ve ever done. 

To start with, I would like to dispel a common misconception. A sentiment I’ve heard all too frequently is that open relationships mean unhappy relationships. Because one or both members of a couple are out sleeping with other people, that must mean a profound dissatisfaction is at play. One might even go so far as to say the relationship is becoming loveless, and a symptom of that is looking for physical intimacy elsewhere. 

But is this really true? In my experience, the answer has been a resounding no. I do understand where the sentiment comes from, though. With all of our moral advancements, society still remains fairly prudish when it comes to sex and love. Love is too often seen as something to be jealously guarded, given out in only the most select of circumstances. The same goes for sex and sexuality. As a result, all of these things come to be seen as special not due to any inherent good they might have, but because of their exclusivity. 

Hence some of the shame and stigma surrounding open relationships and polyamory. If what is special about love, sex, and sexuality comes from their being hoarded, then those who ‘give them away’ are seen to be cheapening something of tremendous value and importance. Why shouldn’t we shame those who spit in the face of something so precious?

I’ll tell you why not: because the premise is dead wrong. If there’s anything I’ve learned from my open relationship, it’s that love, sex, and sexuality are more special the less they are hoarded and made exclusive. If you have love to give, give it and experience it freely. Let yourself fully experience the world of sex and sexuality — both because it can be a lot of fun, and because your horizons will be broadened. Learning to think this way has certainly made me more loving, and more comfortable in my sexuality than I’ve ever been before. 

It has also taught me a great deal about trust. In all relationships — regardless of whether they are open or closed — trust is absolutely vital. In an open relationship, though, my awareness of this has increased substantially. My partner and I trust each other to not break any rules or go behind the other’s back, and that trust has only grown stronger with time. 

Part of the reason for that is the high degree of communication required to maintain that trust. Communicating whenever there is any discomfort, insecurity, or anxiety is not something unique to open relationships. But supposing something is uncommunicated and left to fester, the hurt that results can be far more acute in an open relationship. 

While it initially took some getting used to, all of this communication has been great for a resident of ‘Yapital City’ like myself. Even as an anxious person I’ve found myself totally at ease, knowing that if there’s ever an issue then I can discuss it with my partner free of judgement. It’s even made me a better communicator outside of my relationship, and as a result, I’ve been able to be a better friend to those I care about. 

There’s one final thing it’s taught me — something that has been the most difficult to wrestle with of all of the lessons. As a man in a relationship, there are a lot of social and societal expectations of how you’re meant to behave. The stereotypical man in a relationship is in control, confident, and commanding. While I doubt many men of our generation would openly express that sentiment (although in the age of Andrew Tate and Jordan Peterson, anything is possible), it’s a notion that has been drilled into our subconscious from a young age. 

‘Letting’ your partner sleep with other men flies in the face of that. In the view of traditional masculinity, an open relationship represents a loss of control. It represents weakness, a failure to ‘keep your house in order’. What else could it be? 

One problem with this view of masculinity: it’s f**king stupid. The idea of men having some sort of ‘natural’ role in a relationship is, to use the words of US President Joe Biden, malarkey. Every man is different, and shaming those men who stray from the stereotypical view of masculinity is utter nonsense. To the men who shame other men: might I suggest that instead of worrying about the relationships of others, you worry about your own relationship with, say, a bottle of shower gel, lest you remain a foetid ogre? 

Unfortunately, sometimes it’s not so easy to “it’s f**king stupid” my way out of something I’ve internalised over many years. There have been moments where I did feel that weakness, believing that non-monogamy somehow meant I was less of a man than those around me. On top of that, as someone who is very socially progressive, the fact that such a regressive way of thinking was so ingrained in me made me feel like a hypocrite. Not only am I less of a man, I thought, but I can’t even be consistent with my own values. 

But I always found my way out of that self-doubt. I realised that not only was I just as much of a man as those around me, but that I had become a much better man than I could ever have dreamed to be. I learned how rewarding it is to be trusting, and how much easier proper communication makes things. I learned that my sexuality and love are not things to be guarded, but rather things I should explore and feel deeply. And through it all, I also learned that my partner is someone I want to spend many, many more years with. 

So, if you’ve ever been curious about non-monogamy, I say give it a shot. Explore the depths of your love and sexuality… and find out just how fun it is to kiss your friends.

Illustration By: Holly Ward

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