Lately, I have been seeing a few videos of Esther Perel discussing infidelity pop up from various friends in my news feeds. I have to say that I enjoy her frank discussion of love and relationships. I also agree with her about love and comfort as opposed to desire and the unattainable.
In modern relationships, your spouse is supposed to be everything to you: lover, friend, parenting partner etc. There is supposed to be so much openness that you blend into one unit. To become we.
All of this has me thinking about my current relationship, my past relationships and communities, and what my future may hold.
In the past, I have cheated on my partners. I have cheated on people that I have loved. I have kept secrets that melted relationships. I always felt guilty. It was never worth it, but in that moment, when I was cheating, there was definitely a thrill. The thrill was not from the taboo of cheating. It did not come from hurting my partner. It came from exploring someone new and knowing, absolutely knowing, that the openness that I demanded in my actual relationships could never be shared with this person. This person would always remain a mystery. They would always be new and, in some way, untouchable.
At some point I learned that the distance did not come from the cheating. It came from already having a primary partner. By practicing ethical polyamory, I was able to pursue these fun, shadowy romances while still having a completely open, honest relationship with a primary partner. Of course, I don’t like the names. The titles of primary and secondary. The hierarchy. It was more complicated than it is on paper. Whispers, touches, and experiences usually are.
Eventually, I moved away from the SF Bay area. I moved away from a culture of free love, exploration, sex positivity, and open relationships. I moved back to the desert, where my love life dried to memories and monogamy. I continued east, and the further I went, the further inside of me my alternative choices got buried.
My husband knows all of this. My husband knows everything about me. We have no secrets, and I like it that way. I love our possession. Our comfort. Our recognition. Our knowledge. Love— as in a long-term security that I will fiercely protect. He knows all of this, and yet we are in a more or less monogamous relationship. I say more or less because we come back to this question of exploration occasionally, but we have never crossed a line. It’s still too risky. It’s scary, when someone when is your whole world, to let in possibilities of crumbling that relationship.
But then I come back to the idea that desire bursts forth towards the unknown. We are jealous of what we possess while we desire what we do not have.
I have a friend who is very traditional about her relationships. I have always wondered what her relationships must be like since they do not have the absolute intimacy and familiarity that mine do. She keeps a strict sense of mystery between her and her boyfriends. Whereas I blurt out all of my secrets after a single orgasm, she is the type that will not share her toothbrush with her husband, even if he forgot his at home. Before, I thought that would be a terrible, shallow relationship. Now I am starting to see how the balance between intimacy and mystery creates a constant desire that can last a lifetime.
I am an open book, so I have to find other ways to cultivate my desire.
Last weekend, while in Spain, I met hundreds of people. Almost all of them were nice. Caring. Affectionate. Helpful. In short, these were good people. They were willing to hold the door open for a woman with a stroller. They were willing to share a smile and stop and give me their undivided attention for a minute. At one point, I found myself wondering somewhere in my subconscious, wouldn’t it be nice to have that kind of attention all of the time?
It took me a day of looking hard at my husband to realize that I did. I do. Nikola opens doors for me. He holds my bag. He listens to me intently. He smiles at me and tells me that I am attractive. But because I have come to expect these things from him, I have stopped noticing them.
Because I do not expect anything from strangers, every time I have a positive interaction with someone, I feel a slight thrill go through me. I feel a tingling that starts at my extremities and warms my chest. Butterflies, I believe they are called. Every smile. Every friendly word. It isn’t a sexual thing. It is just pure, unfocused excitement of possibility. I am surprised, and I love being surprised.
The question I find myself asking is how do I let my husband surprise me when he is already open, attentive, and loving on a daily basis? How do I keep the mystery about him?
At the moment, my solution is to let my surprise at the kindness of strangers echo into our relationship. I let their actions shine a light on the everyday tasks that I he does and I take for granted. I share my surprise and appreciation that I get from the unexpected places with him. For now, that works.
In the future? Well, love is a strange and complicated thing. So is desire.