The Exclusively Nonexclusive Relationship

In a matter of days, Mr. Possibility returns from his overseas two-month business excursion. I’d by lying if I said I wasn’t incredibly nervous and maybe even more confused. Not by him, but by myself.

Since he’s been gone, there have obviously been some developments between us and certain things have changed. I have missed his company, but my life has also become increasingly busier and fuller. My career has started to grow, along with my group of close girlfriends and contacts. I’ve placed more effort on my running time, indulged in more brunching, and meeting a collection of new interesting people. Within the next couple of months, not only will I continue through this 12-step program, but I’ll also be moving to a new apartment, and at last, Spring will be here and all of this cold weather will be a distant memory.

Have I changed since the start of December when he caught his 10-hour flight? Absolutely. Do I still feel the same way about the possible relationship I thought we could have? I don’t know.

I’ve spent a lot of time over the last few weeks really thinking, considering, and determining how I truly feel about whatever it is that we are, or we were doing. When I met him, I was at a point of complete self-discovery where I was determined to leave not only the past, but the bad habits I developed from old relationships and my own doings, far behind me. I had made a distinctive decision to be the captain of my own soul, to lead my life without worrying or stressing about men, and finding love –or even the chance for it – was miles from my mind or priorities. Instead, I was embarking on the journey of sincerely learning to accept myself.

And then, as they always seem to do, a man came into my life. Not just any man at that, but a tall, attractive, and successful guy who made me laugh, who was intelligent and charming, and for whatever odd reason, we connected in a way that I don’t believe either of us could describe to give it its full merit. It wasn’t love at first sight, or maybe even love at all, but it was something. And even though I was concentrating so diligently on being a single gal, I also promised myself I’d never turn away from what could-be, just because I was afraid of what I may find.

However, I never got to the point where I wanted a relationship. Where I couldn’t stand the thought of being with anyone else. Where I wanted to introduce him as my boyfriend to my friends or my family. Where I felt the need to have “The Talk” with him that every man on this planet intensely fears (and women too, for the matter). Where I hoped to accept a relationship request on Facebook.

On the other hand, in keeping with the “no rules” rule – I decided to give myself sexual liberties. The power to free myself and my own thinking about when it is okay and not okay to have sex with someone. Before, I needed to be head-over-heels, practically in love, to even consider getting down to my skimpies. I needed to have commitment. Stability. The absolute, undeniable promise that this man did care about me, did have my best interest at heart, and I could rest assured that he’d be there not only the next morning, but next month, too. In all the times before Mr. Possibility, even when I sincerely had the desire to sleep with someone, I refrained to protect my heart, protect my number from going up, or maybe, just protect what I was afraid would break if I gave in.

But then, Mr. Possibility showed me that I don’t need a ring or a title to have an orgasm. Maybe, I just need to have a connection based on honesty with someone, know who they are as a person, and most importantly, trust that if something goes awry, I can still depend on myself to pick up the pieces, should anything shatter.

However, as liberated as I became as a single woman – I didn’t reach the point where I wanted to sleep with an additional man. Nor did I feel comfortable to balance two (or three or four) different beds. And when I discovered his explorations in other possibilities, I was sincerely hurt. I felt betrayed and like the hope I had in whatever we were creating was damaged. I had agreed to a no-strings attached relationship, even though I knew both of us were starting to tie our ends together. I had agreed to casual sex, even when both of our feelings were a little more serious. I had been an active, willing, and happy participant in a relationship that didn’t require or demand monogamy…until I discovered it wasn’t, in fact, sexually monogamous from his perspective.

Yet, even after knowing, I still didn’t want to be his girlfriend or set boundaries within the confines of a relationship. I just didn’t want him to do the deed with anyone else. Basically – I wanted an exclusively, nonexclusive relationship.

Is this a complete double standard? Am I fooling myself into thinking I’m capable of the friends-with-benefits relationship? I wasn’t the only one developing emotions, but were mine far stronger than his? Or is that sex just really does complicate everything? Or is it that defining a relationship places pressure on the developments of dating?

I will say there are genetic differences between men and women in many ways, and especially in sex. In my experience, men are able to jump more freely from woman to woman, where a lady has trouble shutting off feelings or projections from man to man. I could go into detail about the hormones released and the scientific studies, but I won’t.  I refuse to generalize every man and every woman, for I rather believe we’re defined more by being individuals than our genitalia. Regardless, getting naked – either emotionally or literally exposes you to someone else in the most intimate of ways. And with that intimacy, comes a certain level of trust. That faith, that reliability, regardless if its for a night, for a few months, or for the time your partner is across many oceans, needs to be nurtured to keep not only the possible romance (if there is one), but the sex, preserved and healthy.

Somehow, even with all of the progress I’ve made, all of the love addict qualities I’ve kicked to the curb with my Louboutins, I’ve discovered there are certain non-negoitables, particular charactertiscs and dare I say, moral obligations that a person makes to him or herself. And those, even in the span of progress can’t be compromised. I’m not sure how things will be when he comes back, how I will react to seeing him, and I’m positive we can’t just jump right back in where we left off. Though with possibility comes a hope for something more, it also opens up the opportunity to see what’s possible and acceptable for yourself. Maybe I don’t feel the need to have a boyfriend or to call Mr. Possibility my one-and-only, but when it comes to traveling the jungle of single sex, I’m more of a two-person safari gal. Perhaps he’s more of an explorer. Or we’re both somewhere in between, trying to decide what’s best for each of us. Or for the “us” we both thought there could be, or potentially still could be.

If there’s anything I’ve learned in his two month absence and all that’s happened in the weeks we’ve been connected only through technology and not touch – it’s that relationships, in their truest forms, are of course fleeting, but also indefinable. Monogamy may be easy to explain, but the interpretation changes as quickly as a polygamist’s bed. Cheating has all sorts of different levels and doesn’t just involved banging boots, but can encompass emotions beyond what we anticipated. Benefitting with a friend is dangerous territory, just like rebounding with a handsome stranger. The point between talking and dating, casual and serious, picturing the future and living it, and the time where a hard place comes into play and the rock goes on the finger – are all lines that are easily blurred.

Maybe, the only relationship we can truly have on our own terms, without compromising or bending the rules or our standards, is the one we have with ourselves. And even that one is also complicated, and is neither exclusive or nonexclusive. Because at times we open up ourselves to possibilities, and other times, we’re completely content with being in only the company of ourselves. But most of the time – we’re somewhere right in between, deciding which turn, which page, which road, to take next.

PS: Confessions of a Love Addict is considering a Q&A Sunday where Lindsay answers questions from your own stories about the journey of self-love (and the men along the way). If you’re interested, send her an email.

23 thoughts on “The Exclusively Nonexclusive Relationship

  1. Pingback: The Exclusively Nonexclusive Relationship (via Confessions of a Love Addict) « Shay Rae's Diary

  2. “Mr. Possibility showed me that I don’t need a ring or a title to have an orgasm…I wanted an exclusively, nonexclusive relationship” Like that…

    I think the main thing is to be in a situation (regardless of the definition) that you are comfortable with – you make your own rules, and you live by yor own standards. You dont have to define it, and what you want and what he wants may change overnight…

    Either way – good luck with seeing him again. I know that scary but fun feeling all too well :)


  3. Oo0o Yeah this is where the water gets a bit murkey… I think if you casually date other people it fine– but once you involve sex– there should be just you two exclusivly having sex. I could never be comfortable with someone sleep with me and 3 other people… or vice versa. ButI’m pretty greedy– sharing isn’t for me.

    Good luck with this one Linds. follow your heart… it’ll know what to do.

  4. That’s right, Lindsay – stand up for what you believe in and don’t take anything less than what you want and deserve! If he can’t commit to sleeping only with you why would you want to sleep with him and all of the girls that linger on his……..I’m sure there are plenty of other guys that would love the opportunity to make this committment to you!

  5. Ever since you posted about Mr. Possibility’s other possibilities, I have been looking forward to the reunion you two will have. I had some comments back then, but this post provides me with a much better starting point for sharing my thoughts.

    You wanted a male opinion on this one, and I hope you get others because I feel like my opinions are different from the stereotypical male. That being said, maybe my (seemingly) unique perspective can be of help anyway.

    I noticed that you were asking yourself a lot of questions in this post, and as I was reading, I found myself answering those questions. I figured I would share my answers to your questions.

    “Is this a complete double standard?”

    My initial answer to this question is yes, but I don’t fault you (or him) for it. The main problem that I’ve noticed with you two regarding this subject was a lack of communication. You guys had a casual relationship, and that’s great, but I assume you guys never really talked about things once sex came into the picture. Normally, that wouldn’t be an issue in a casual relationship, but since you never felt comfortable sleeping with another man while you had this possibility, I think the subject should have been brought up. If he was a real possibility, he would/should have been happy to discuss it, not want to avoid it.

    “Am I fooling myself into thinking I’m capable of the friends-with-benefits relationship?”

    I don’t think it’s an issue of you “fooling yourself.” You know you have moral obligations, and you know you should stick to them, and I totally agree. Some people can have a FWB relationship and be totally fine, others (myself included) have issues with them. Like you, I view sexual activities, intercourse or not, as being intimate experiences. I want to have a connection with someone before any of those things go on. You just have to know how you feel about FWB relationships, and I think this is the experience you needed to have in order to figure that out.

    “I wasn’t the only one developing emotions, but were mine far stronger than his?”

    You did a post about asking yourself the “what-if” questions. Here is one that you should avoid. :) Your emotions (and how you deal with them) are the only things you should be concerned with. The only person who can let you know about his emotions is Mr. Possibility. I bet he’ll share with you, all it’ll take is asking him. Another thing about his emotions vs. his actions, well, that all goes back to the lack of communication between you guys.

    “Or is that sex just really does complicate everything?”

    Well…yea. I personally think it does. That’s really why (and I’m being completely honest with you) I really have no desire to have sex. All I’ve ever seen it do is ruin things between people. I mean think about it with this situation, what changed everything? Now I could be wrong, but it seems like it was the sex. You were hurt when he was sleeping with another person. Would that have bothered you if you guys hadn’t had sex? I think it would have, but maybe it wouldn’t have hurt as much? But now that I think about it, it’s really not sex in itself, but sex with someone you care about (especially when the commitment level isn’t fully there or fully defined) is what complicates things. I don’t fault anyone for having sex. I just hate to see it get in the way of things between two people.

    “Or is it that defining a relationship places pressure on the developments of dating?”

    I think that it does, and only because it is something that isn’t necessary. It’s human nature, especially when feelings are involved, for us to want to know where things are at, what level they are at, but ultimately, does it really matter? If we aren’t depending on another person to define our happiness, then do we really need help from another person to know how we feel about a dating situation? I’m not saying that discussing your feelings with your SO isn’t important. I’m saying that we shouldn’t look to a dating situation as a series of levels that we have to ascend to, like we are climbing a ladder – even being “Facebook official” has worn out it’s welcome with me.

    I hope that made sense, and I hope that my response and thoughts help out in some way. I think that you are at a defining moment in your recovery. Working though something like is, especially with your “no rules” rule, will definitely help you in the future.

    Good luck when you guys finally see each other in NY.

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  7. Just took a gander at this Lindsay and if I were you I’d employ the Cut & Burn Method with Mr. Possibility. Despite the fact you two talked and came to the same conclusion it’s obvious that you can’t seem to get to that point to where you are okay with it.

    While casual sex is possible there always emotional links involved no matter how casual. I personally don’t care much for casual sex simply because it never seemed right. Most guys who manage to talk a girl into that arrangement want the “goodies” without having to put in the work. Now I’m not advocating that guys should always be pushed towards a goal of having sex or having you as a constant goal because then the relationship becomes a game of power and resentment grows.

    I’d simply suggest abstinence in all of it. Men and sex and all the emotional entanglement. Alcoholics don’t get to have a drink every once in awhile while in recovery. I think you if you truly want to stop being a love addict you need to go full bore and cut all relational possibilities as it will only slow your progress.

    Feel free to ignore me though. That’s just my two cents.

  8. I loved this post! I recently tried the whole exlusively nonexclusive thing, and quite frankly I just don’t think it’s possible. One person always cares more than the other, so there is a constant struggle over who has the power in this non-relationship. Sadly, I was the one who cared more, which means the power was in his hands. And now, I’ve lost months on a relationship that was really no relationship at all. I thought I was strong enough to know the difference and that’d I’d be okay, but either way it was still a total bummer when it came to an end.

    Great closing paragraph, it really is all about the relationship we have with ourselves. Clearly, in my example, I was not being honest with myself. And if I’m not honest with myself, how can I expect anything more from anyone else?

    • I totally agree with you. You simplified the explanation of a very complicated situation. In fact, one that I am currently in. The “one person always cares more..” is so true. But then when you try to practice restraint, it almost feels as though you are lying to yourself or playing games, which is something I try to avoid. Also, sadly, the person who has the “power” sometimes abuses it.

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